School Vote 2016 puts East Ramapo in the spotlight

School districts across the Hudson Valley held budget votes Tuesday. One of the contests that is being closely watched is in the troubled East Ramapo

People across the Hudson Valley are heading to the polls to vote on their school budgets.

People across the Hudson Valley are heading to the polls to vote on their school budgets. (5/17/16)

RAMAPO - School districts across the Hudson Valley held budget votes Tuesday.

One of the contests that is being closely watched is in the troubled East Ramapo School District. There is a $224 million budget proposal on the ballot, and four of the nine seats on the school board are up for grabs.

Four women are running for those seats, but even if they win, the board would still have five officials who are known to favor yeshiva schools. Those five members are not up for re-election Tuesday. Critics accuse the board of heavily favoring private yeshiva schools at the expense of public school students.

Critics of the current board say it has been dominated by Orthodox Jews who don't use the public schools while the schools are made up mostly of minority students. For years, parents accused the board of shortchanging the public schools while supporting Jewish yeshivas or private schools.

"We hope we'll win today and to change the people who sit in the chairs," says voter Luis Nibelo. "They don't belong in this place." 

Last year, the New York Department of Education agreed and appointed a state monitor to oversee that the board spends money wisely and treats all children fairly, but that monitor does not have veto power.

Part of the monitors' responsibilities include keeping a close eye on Election Day proceedings. There are five monitors watching all the polling places. "We are monitoring how the sites are being conducted, how voting is being conducted, ensuring everything is in place," says state monitor Monica George Fields.

The candidates say their focus is on cleaning up the schools, bringing back full-time kindergarten and more accountability. "There should be equity for all children, I wouldn't step on anyone's child to better my own," says Kim Foskew, who is running alongside Jean Fields, Natasha Morales and Sabrina Charles-Pierre.

Some longtime residents say the district has changed for the worse since the board became dominated by the Orthodox Jewish bloc.

"They're not getting enough education, extracurricular activities," says Louis Raucci, another voter. "I've been here 40 years, and I've seen a change. It was nothing like this when I graduated." 

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