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A District Rift in East Ramapo, N.Y.

The East Ramapo Central School district in New York's Rockland County is a study in contrasts.

The approximately 9,000 students who attend the public school system are predominantly Hispanic or black, speak a language other than English at home, and come from poor backgrounds. And about 20,000 students who live in the community, whose families were drawn to the area by thriving Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods, attend private religious schools. However, the public district is responsible for providing some services to private schools, such as special education and transportation. Seven out of nine members on the public school board are Orthodox Jews.

Public school parents say that the board is making extreme cuts to the school system, eliminating programs like all-day kindergarten, art, and music to pay for resources to private schools. The private school parents say that they pay property taxes as well as private school tuition, and have a right to have a say in what happens in the public school system, especially when their taxes keep rising.

The growing rift in the community over the school system was explored in an engrossing story package in The Journal-News, which serves the lower Hudson Valley counties of Putnam, Rockland and Westchester. The package includes videos, interactive maps, and photo galleries. I would recommend starting with the story that lays out the entire divide, "District in Crisis: East Ramapo's Public and Private School Families Fight for Resources."

Parents have asked John King, the state commissioner of education, to remove five Orthodox board members from their positions and appoint a state monitor. (Two Orthodox members of the board had not been elected when the complaint was filed.)

The question the package attempts to answer is: How long can this strain go on? The district is strapped for cash with a needy student population, and there appear to be no signs of reconciliation on the horizon. The article quotes Sarah Chauncey, an educational consultant and Nanuet Board of Education member as saying that East Ramapo has:

"transformed from a mainstream suburban district to something that is hard to recognize. 'They've broken away from the positive gravitational pull that holds a public-school district together in the best sense,' she said. 'They're out in space somewhere.' "


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