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April 24, 2013 8:53 AM   Subscribe

"Them and Them." "Rockland County, New York's East Ramapo school district is a taxpayer-funded system fighting financial insolvency. It is also bitterly divided between the mostly black and Hispanic children and families who use the schools and the Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox Jewish majority who run the Board of Education and send their children to private, religious schools." Also see: A District Divided.

Multi-page link to the NY Mag article.

Journal-News: East Ramapo school district proposes dozens of staff layoffs, sports cuts in 2013-14 budget

NYT (from last July): Rockland County Parents Ask State to Oust 5 Orthodox Jews on School Board

The "East Ramapo Underground" radio show mentioned in the article is also on YouTube.

Preserve Ramapo site has additional information on the area and links to region-related news articles.
posted by zarq (168 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Lawrence School District in the five towns has a similar dynamic going on, although the non-Orthodox population is probably not as disenfranchised as the East Ramapo folks.
posted by JPD at 9:03 AM on April 24, 2013


Don't read the comments.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:10 AM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Never read the comments.
posted by andoatnp at 9:12 AM on April 24, 2013 [11 favorites]


I think they're in for a pretty sharp shock once the state takes over the school district on civil rights grounds. You can't force people from a protected class to move away by refusing to educate their children - that's textbook racism, even if the ones doing it are also in a protected class.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:12 AM on April 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


I could spend an entire day writing an essay condemning the romanticization of Ultra-Orthodox Judaism (haredim) by Benjamin Wallace-Wells. The haredim are not "saving the old ways". They are making up new ways and building new fences (gezirot) around laws every day to the point where the "old ways" are entirely buried.

I cringe at secular Jews who believe that because a man has peyot and a woman wears a sheitel or tichel that they are somehow more truthful, more blessed, more holy, or more in tune with the sacred than those of us who are Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, MO, humanist or atheist.

Rather, their children learn precious little about life and have negligible education, negating one of the most important "old ways" which is "Whoever does not teach his son a trade, it is as though he taught him to commit robbery" (T. Kiddushin 29a); and "All Torah that is not combined with work will eventually cease and lead to sin" (T. Avot 2:2) Yet in New Square and Monsey alike, the men prized as most likely to marry are the ones who will study and live on welfare. Shame.
posted by Sophie1 at 9:30 AM on April 24, 2013 [68 favorites]


Whenever I recall the saying that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others, this is the kind of situation that comes to mind. I place a great deal of hope in the mechanisms of democracy to ensure justice and promote the common welfare. I don't, however, have quite as high expectations when it comes to people carrying out those mechanisms. For example, this part of the school board meetings:
After the main district business is conducted, but before the public has a chance to speak, the board usually departs for private executive sessions that sometimes last hours. This infuriates many of the students and parents, who often must wait past midnight on a school night in order to speak.
I find the last line of the NY Mag article troubling: "But in it there was the promise of something permanent: a community." Community can in some circumstances become factionalism, which, as Madison recognized, poses a considerable challenge to democratic governent.
posted by audi alteram partem at 9:30 AM on April 24, 2013 [10 favorites]


As a general rule, I would suggest that no one be allowed to be on a public school board who has not sent his own children to a public school or who plans not to (by which I mean that when the child is ready for school, if the kid not going to public school the parent must step down from the school board.)
posted by Postroad at 9:38 AM on April 24, 2013 [23 favorites]


Filed under: people are assholes.

Gonna need a larger manilla folder for that one.
posted by Blue_Villain at 9:45 AM on April 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


Postroad: As a general rule, I would suggest that no one be allowed to be on a public school board who has not sent his own children to a public school or who plans not to...

Hah! I agree!

In my northern Rhode Island town, this has become an issue recently. One citizen got mad enough to join the School Board, and then didn't run last November. They got pissed when it was pointed out recently that they were sending their kids elsewhere. And a guy who just got elected to the Town Council doesn't send his kids to town schools, and also got snippy when people pointed it out. (He also has attended two or three meetings so far, and made pointed "message" votes each time to cut some school department funding because he is anti-tax.)

With no skin in the game the budgeting & curriculum calculus is very different.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:46 AM on April 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


As a general rule, I would suggest that no one be allowed to be on a public school board who has not sent his own children to a public school or who plans not to (by which I mean that when the child is ready for school, if the kid not going to public school the parent must step down from the school board.)
Kind of surprised this is not actually the rule.
posted by fullerine at 9:47 AM on April 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I cringe at secular Jews who believe that because a man has peyot and a woman wears a sheitel or tichel that they are somehow more truthful, more blessed, more holy, or more in tune with the sacred than those of us who are Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, MO, humanist or atheist.


I watched a great documentary on the BBC but can't recall the name or all the details but it was about a very orthodox Jewish subculture but the main subjects were convicted drug smugglers and shady types. Completely blew out my prejudice that overtly religious people were more moral or pious at least within their own frameworks. It turns out they are just humans with slightly different clothing and some slightly different traditions and the same old rationalizations for bad behaviour.
posted by srboisvert at 9:48 AM on April 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Postroad, I would agree with you if property taxes (or some other indiscriminate form of taxation) were not the method of financing the public schools (as it is here in Texas). But taxpayers are an important stakeholder in districts financed in that manner and ought to have a say in how their tax dollars are spent.

And this sort of factionalism would be harmless if government were conducted at the lowest-necessary level rather than at the state or federal level when a local level is more appropriate. Then, if what Sophie1 says is true, and a bunch of men want to have the government subsidize their lifetime of religious learning are subsidized only by a local government that doesn't believe that's a good use of resources, then that problem will fix itself.
posted by resurrexit at 9:48 AM on April 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


“Separatism was of such importance,” Teitelbaum would say, quoting an older rabbi, “that even if a city had no wicked Jews, it would be worthwhile to pay some wicked Jews to come and live there so that the good Jews would have something to separate themselves from.”
posted by dobie at 9:51 AM on April 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


JPD, I had a friend that worked in that district. I chalked it up to rumors/antisemitism that the bussing was arranged in such a way that the orthodox kids got rides to their religious schools while Hispanic kids in the outlying areas were left without. Interesting read, either way.
posted by dr_dank at 9:55 AM on April 24, 2013


And this sort of factionalism would be harmless if government were conducted at the lowest-necessary level rather than at the state or federal level when a local level is more appropriate.

The very reason this is occurring is that schools are controlled at the local level. The hasidic community in no way has a majority in the state of New York, but in this one school district, they do. What you're proposing is just keep splitting school districts until when? Until each school is its own district?

Indeed, the best answer here is to get rid of the incredible inefficiency of thousands of school boards and put education at the correct level, which is federal.

"Mix 'em up. I'm tired of state's rights."
-- General George Thomas, after the battle of Missionary Ridge.
posted by eriko at 9:56 AM on April 24, 2013 [16 favorites]


Postroad: "As a general rule, I would suggest that no one be allowed to be on a public school board who has not sent his own children to a public school or who plans not to (by which I mean that when the child is ready for school, if the kid not going to public school the parent must step down from the school board.)"

This should be a rule everywhere. I was surprised to find that it's not. You want people on a school board who are emotionally invested in seeing it succeed. Private schools (Jewish and non) certainly don't elect or appoint people to their boards who have a vested interest in dismantling their institutions. And if they do, procedures are in place to allow their ouster. But with the public system, that seems harder to prevent.
posted by zarq at 10:07 AM on April 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Postroad, I would agree with you if property taxes (or some other indiscriminate form of taxation) were not the method of financing the public schools (as it is here in Texas). But taxpayers are an important stakeholder in districts financed in that manner and ought to have a say in how their tax dollars are spent.

have a say != dictate/hector/act holier than thou/rule by fiat (which is how it's done by school boards "having their say" down here in Tennessee, which are little more than public school system dismantling machines)
posted by blucevalo at 10:07 AM on April 24, 2013


But taxpayers are an important stakeholder in districts financed in that manner and ought to have a say in how their tax dollars are spent.

In general taxpayers never have a direct say in how tax is spent, why should that be different in the cases of schools?
posted by MartinWisse at 10:08 AM on April 24, 2013 [8 favorites]


Indeed, the best answer here is to get rid of the incredible inefficiency of thousands of school boards and put education at the correct level, which is federal.

Which would create entirely new and larger "one-size-fits-all" inefficiencies. Where I live, the close scrutiny by neighbors paying property taxes and by parents looking out for their kids' education results in the a pretty good education at a pretty low cost. There needs to be oversight by state and federal educational authorities, as is obviously needed in East Ramapo, but too much state and federal interference (I'm talking No Child Left Behind, among other things) - can be a major drag on effective education.

Do you really want education left in the hands of Congress? As it stands now, that would mean all our kids would mainly learn how to drill oil wells.
posted by tommyD at 10:11 AM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Do you really want education left in the hands of Congress?
My postman/women/person mail carrier still delivers the mail on a pretty regular basis. And despite the fact that they've threatened to cut Saturday deliveries we're both pretty confident that this is just a PR stunt.

Many people might say that the USPS is protected by a different clause on a different document, but that's just because the people who wrote those clauses/document wanted it to be that way. We're living in a time where schools and benefits in general are being rescinded. We need to be putting the people who are willing to protect those things into office, so that they can create the clauses/documents to protect those things too.
posted by Blue_Villain at 10:19 AM on April 24, 2013


The quote from the Hasid complaining about how the anti-board crowd hated him because of his yarmulke had me yelling at the monitor. No, they hate you because you are betraying the responsibility you implicitly undertook when you ran for School Board. The School Board is supposed to run the school system to benefit the geographic community at large and the students it serves. These people have turned their purported faith and community into a criminal conspiracy to intimidate, harrass, deny, and drive off anyone who they feel doesn't belong. They've turned the School Board into a weapon of ethnic cleansing.
You're in America, Bub. Everyone belongs. You don't like that, YOU find somewhere else to live. Jackass.
And SHAME, SHAME, SHAME on the New York magazine for working so hard to put the patina of tradition, family, community on this conspiracy that in truth is every bit as immoral as any old-school La Cosa Nostra protection racket.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 10:20 AM on April 24, 2013 [36 favorites]


In general taxpayers never have a direct say in how tax is spent, why should that be different in the cases of schools?

What? Schoolboards and superintendents operate a lot like council-manager government. The tax payers in municipalities get a say in how their tax money is spent in the same way the tax payers in school districts do, through their elected representatives to the school board.

In some places, there's a referendum or a town meeting style vote to approve the budget of the school district, but that's similar to how town meeting style municipal budgets are approved.
posted by Jahaza at 10:21 AM on April 24, 2013


We're living in a time where schools and benefits in general are being rescinded. We need to be putting the people who are willing to protect those things into office, so that they can create the clauses/documents to protect those things too.

Rampo might be a special case, but in general, it's a lot easier to put those people into office when you only have to take over your local schoolboard than when putting those people into office requires winning a presidential and a multitude of congressional races, many of them located thousands of miles away from where you live. This is the advantage of subsidiarity in government administration.
posted by Jahaza at 10:24 AM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


BigLankyBastard: "And SHAME, SHAME, SHAME on the New York magazine for working so hard to put the patina of tradition, family, community on this conspiracy that in truth is every bit as immoral as any old-school La Cosa Nostra protection racket."

It's immoral and appalling, I agree. I wouldn't go so far to say it's 'ethnic cleansing,' especially considering the emotional import of the term, but it's certainly extremely destructive and shitty behavior.

The mindset, motivations and beliefs of the Hasidim are the whole reason they are gutting the public school system and screwing over everyone who relies on it. I think it's good they were discussed, and to acknowledge that the Hasidic community is doing this to protect their own.

Those of us who pay taxes to NY state would do well to pay attention to what's happening and why. This isn't the only Hasidic community that has taken advantage of the NYS-funded public school system in order to serve their own special needs children. The Kiryas Joel public school district (in Orange County, NY) exclusively serves kids with special needs, and recently received $1.6 million in RTTT funding to serve 123 students. That's more in RTTT funds per public school student than any other district in the state.
posted by zarq at 10:40 AM on April 24, 2013


I could spend an entire day writing an essay condemning the romanticization of Ultra-Orthodox Judaism (haredim)

Just another plug here for Failed Messiah, a blog that is dedicated, full-time as far as I can tell, to condemning all things wrong in Judaism. He covers what's going on in Rockland extensively. His about page: "'Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.' – Elie Wiesel."
posted by Melismata at 10:43 AM on April 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


As a general rule, I would suggest that no one be allowed to be on a public school board who has not sent his own children to a public school or who plans not to ...

So, those of us who live in middling school districts where the only decent education is obtained at a private school would be prohibited from working to improve the lot of those kids who can't afford to buy their way out.

Well, that's one way to ensure a plutocracy, I guess...
posted by madajb at 10:49 AM on April 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I cringe at secular Jews who believe that because a man has peyot and a woman wears a sheitel or tichel that they are somehow more truthful, more blessed, more holy, or more in tune with the sacred than those of us who are Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, MO, humanist or atheist.

We can cringe at Reform etc Jews who say the same thing, because it's a common sense, that Reform is just a very watered down version of Judaism (Conservative somewhat less watered down, etc) and not its own full branch with research and traditions and -- seriously, a lot of sects do very poorly at teaching.

As a general rule, I would suggest that no one be allowed to be on a public school board who has not sent his own children to a public school or who plans not to (by which I mean that when the child is ready for school, if the kid not going to public school the parent must step down from the school board.)

People with no kids? People who started out sending their oldest child to public school, which failed the kid, so they are trying to help their child by sending them to a better school (and perhaps also siblings) and also help other kids so they won't need to suffer? I don't think this will solve what it's meant to solve.
posted by jeather at 10:53 AM on April 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Melismata: "Just another plug here for Failed Messiah, a blog that is dedicated, full-time as far as I can tell, to condemning all things wrong in Judaism."

Love his blog.

Worth noting that he almost exclusively covers Orthodox Jewish communities, schools etc., and especially focuses on ultraorthodox ones -- the Hareidi, Hasid and Chabad communities, their rabbis and institutions. He's not attacking the whole religion, per se. FM doesn't usually cover controversies in the other sects unless they do something particularly egregious.
posted by zarq at 10:53 AM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Using the cloak of Shoah to perform injustice is a true horror, here and elsewhere. What boggles my mind is why you'd waste so many pages inspiring sympathy for a community which clearly does not generate any for outsiders.
posted by TypographicalError at 10:56 AM on April 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Melismata - I like Failed Messiah. Shmarya's a brave guy, and/but seriously flawed. He's still super-angry with the Haredi community on a personal level, which he has every right to be having come from the community, but it sometimes fatally biases his reporting. I wish he would take a long course in journalistic ethics. Also, he could seriously think about stopping arguing with his readers in the comments section.
posted by Sophie1 at 10:56 AM on April 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


As a general rule, I would suggest that no one be allowed to be on a public school board who has not sent his own children to a public school or who plans not to

I can only assume that you are also planning on exempting people without children or who send their children elsewhere from taxation that funds public schools? Or else there's a pretty obvious taxation-without-representation problem there.

Sorry, but you can't get public funding without letting the same public have a say in how it's spent.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:58 AM on April 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


jeather - We can cringe at Reform etc Jews who say the same thing

I guess what I meant by secular was non-Haredi, which is as bad as romanticizing Haredim in the first place. Thanks for the correction.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:02 AM on April 24, 2013


I read this article yesterday and thought about posting it (and ended up not because as much as I think it raises some really interesting points, it also has so much potential to go south). My first reaction was also that people who serve on school boards need to have a vested interest in the school succeeding - and if the only way to achieve that is to limit it to parents of kids in the school, then so be it. But it doesn't seem a reasonable thing to enact, and gets awfully close to taxation without representation, since only the school board can determine the budget.

I did think the article was fair, and hope that it does some good in getting the schools out of the hands of people who are not only opting out of the public school system, but opting out of why [secular] education matters, higher education, upward mobility, and every other American value (yes, I said it) that public schools are supposed to support and reinforce. But none of the Hareidi players in the article will ever read it, so it's probably a moot point. There's a very serious concept in Judaism of a chillul Hashem - an action by Jews (especially religious or publicly identifiable Jews) that makes non-Jews think less of Jews, Judaism, and by association G-d. This situation is, unquestionably, a HUGE chillul Hashem, and yet the Satmar leadership and community have become so insular and so powerful that they genuinely neither see nor hear - nor care - what other people (including other religious Jews) think of them. For them to only see this as anti-Semitism -- and not recognize that their actions are actively inviting anti-Semitism upon themselves and all Jews by association, is not just willful blindness, it's egregious hypocrisy.
posted by Mchelly at 11:05 AM on April 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


We can cringe at Reform etc Jews who say the same thing, because it's a common sense, that Reform is just a very watered down version of Judaism (Conservative somewhat less watered down, etc) and not its own full branch with research and traditions and -- seriously, a lot of sects do very poorly at teaching.


You really think Reform Judaism is watered down? From what? You realize Judaism is an evolving, liquid thing and not beholden to any pure, one thing?

Or are you really saying that Reform Jews are somehow not Jewish enough?
posted by You Guys Like 2 Party? at 11:07 AM on April 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, I don't think it's right to demonize any communitty that tries to rig the system to get more funding for educating their special needs children, however many or few they have (or however great each individual child's need). The answer is to find more government funding for all schools, so the system doesn't have to be rigged in order for kids to get the attention they need. As a society we have (rightly) decided that kids with disabilities should be nurtured and included as much as possible within the community. We need to start funding that morality instead of setting up a situation where the only way to include them is to take money away from the needs of non-disabled students.
posted by Mchelly at 11:10 AM on April 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


And this sort of factionalism would be harmless if government were conducted at the lowest-necessary level rather than at the state or federal level when a local level is more appropriate.
The very reason this is occurring is that schools are controlled at the local level....Indeed, the best answer here is to get rid of the incredible inefficiency of thousands of school boards and put education at the correct level, which is federal.


And then that other party comes into power and federal control becomes the worst thing ever.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 11:12 AM on April 24, 2013


Ugh. The whole chillul Hashem thing is, was and always has been a way of getting kids to behave. Adults, especially men, especially politicians, in the community have never, as far as I can tell, been all that concerned about chillul Hashem.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:15 AM on April 24, 2013


Sorry, but you can't get public funding without letting the same public have a say in how it's spent.

Unless you are a defense contractor, or a "too-big-to-fail" bank...some beneficiaries of public funding are more equal than others.
posted by deliciae at 11:17 AM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


You really think Reform Judaism is watered down? From what? You realize Judaism is an evolving, liquid thing and not beholden to any pure, one thing?

Or are you really saying that Reform Jews are somehow not Jewish enough?


No, I said that it's a common sense -- it is common, I've heard it often, and it's a regular sermon topic among Reform rabbis -- that Reform Judaism is a watered down version of real (aka Orthodox of some form) Judaism, and the fact that many Jews have this sense, including many Reform Jews, means that there have been failures in teaching what Reform Judaism is.

I am a Reform Jew, or Reform-ish -- it's the synagogue I go to, anyhow.
posted by jeather at 11:25 AM on April 24, 2013


“We’ve been elected,” Weissmandl says, “fair and square.”

Am I the only person who instantly thought 'so was Hitler'? Majority wishes are awesome, amirite? Minorities can go suck it.
posted by jacalata at 11:27 AM on April 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's totally irrelevant why these Orthodox men are dismantling their district's schools. I don't care whether they're using the resulting savings to cure cancer. They're taking an institution, organization, and funding mechanism meant to ensure that some minimum educational standard is provided to ALL children and devoting vastly disproportionate resources to only SOME children, at the cost of rendering the schools unable to fulfill their actual mission.

This is betrayal, and the fact that they have leveraged their coreligionists' impulse towards insularity to win elections; and have chosen to define "community" as "People who think and dress like I do" is a defacto abandonment of American ideals and Human ideals. It's also an apparent violation of NY and Federal Civil Rights laws.

These particular Orthodox have made it plain they got theirs and they see no value in educating non-Orthodox in the area. While the objective of this mentality may not be ethnic cleansing, the actual impact of it will be, if left unchecked.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 11:28 AM on April 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


jacalata: "Am I the only person who instantly thought 'so was Hitler'?"

Gosh, I hope so.
posted by zarq at 11:34 AM on April 24, 2013 [8 favorites]


If true, there should be a cause of action here for First Amendment violations - a local government body is running itself for the benefit of a particular religion.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:34 AM on April 24, 2013


And then that other party comes into power and federal control becomes the worst thing ever.

Which is why it's valuable to have a federal system of government (local, state and national) with separation of powers between the branches of government. Localized democracy won't solve the problem of factionalism because in all local communities there will be minorities (or even pluralities) whose rights and interests may be hampered by those in power.

Over-reliance on any one level or branch of government forecloses avenues of recourse available to those affected. If a local school board abuses its budget authority, citizens can lobby the state legislature to reform laws, ask the executive's office to investigate for malfeasance and/or file suit in court. If the vagary of local and state regulations can't effectively tend to the well being of their constituents, the federal government can come in with over-riding regulations (e.g. The Clean Air and Water Acts).

There are, of course, tough questions of what should belong to local, state or federal control, and none of our options are perfect (see "worst form of government" above). However, having a complex interplay of different levels and branches of government is vital to thwarting the worst effects of factionalism, even as it comes at the cost of efficiency and doesn't prevent factions from coming into power temporarily and doing considerable damage while in power (I'm thinking here of the rise of the conservative right since the 1980s and its influence in all three branches of government).

The perversion of democratic process (as in the school board here thwarting public comment), at whatever level it occurs, is a signal warning that something is seriously wrong.
posted by audi alteram partem at 11:37 AM on April 24, 2013


While the objective of this mentality may not be ethnic cleansing, the actual impact of it will be, if left unchecked.

No. Most people consider the actual impact of "ethnic cleansing" to be dead people. There is no threat of that and I think using the language here is unwarranted. I'm not even convinced that the community is trying to force others out - many non-Jews are unaffected by changes in a public school. The Curley Effect discussion and the pull quote in the FPP title are good for clickbait, but I'm pretty sure the goal is the same as it was when they first started running for school board: they wanted services for their disabled kids and couldn't find another way to get them. Doesn't make what they are doing right, and I'm not defending them - I don't think anyone can defend them. But calling it tantamount to ethnic cleansing is unfair.
posted by Mchelly at 11:45 AM on April 24, 2013


This article makes me want to set up a MeFi Meet up in their little gated community.
Doesn't that sound fun?
posted by It is better for you not to know. at 11:52 AM on April 24, 2013


I don't understand how the budget can cut so many teaching jobs that it now takes 5 or 6 years of high school to graduate. Are there no state standards for teacher to pupil ratios? Can they just continue to cut the budget until there are no teachers left? This is unfathomable. There are very poor school districts in other parts of the US, how do they cope with tiny budgets?
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 11:57 AM on April 24, 2013


I can only assume that you are also planning on exempting people without children or who send their children elsewhere from taxation that funds public schools? Or else there's a pretty obvious taxation-without-representation problem there.

Washington, DC would like you to read their license plates. As would all the naturalised citizens who can't run for President. Taxation without representation isn't unconstitutional. Nor is representation the same thing as being eligible to run for office.

I will totally think ill of you if you run for schoolboard while sending your kids to private schools. And of anyone who votes for you. If you moan about your taxes going to public schools when you send your kids to private schools or don't have school-age children, I can't put into words how angry that makes me.
posted by hoyland at 12:01 PM on April 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


My opinion of people like that depends entirely on motivations. Are your kids in private school because you have no interest in a secular education, or because you think the public schools in your area suck and need to be made better (say, through actions of the school board)?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:04 PM on April 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


As a general rule, I would suggest that no one be allowed to be on a public school board who has not sent his own children to a public school or who plans not to

I can only assume that you are also planning on exempting people without children or who send their children elsewhere from taxation that funds public schools? Or else there's a pretty obvious taxation-without-representation problem there.

Sorry, but you can't get public funding without letting the same public have a say in how it's spent.


Hogwash. You get a say at election time, same as everyone else. Believing that giving your tax dollars to something gives you the right to micromanage it is not borne out in any other area of government; I don't get to set the police department's priorities, though I do get to petition and vote and protest. Same with any other local council or board. Education is the same. I don't see any problem with making "has a child in the system" a requirement to be on the board. You still get your voice, but you don't get to make decisions that have an impact you will never feel on something as important as a child's education.
posted by emjaybee at 12:07 PM on April 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Another interesting kink in this story is that usually property values are the safeguard to keep something like this from happening; there's almost always a correlation between good schools bringing home values up while failing schools bring home values down. But in this case, because the community is growing exponentially and there's limited room to grow (since they all need to be within walking distance of a synagogue), property values are stable (and I think even continuing to rise) in the area. So there's not even a financial incentive to care about things going downhill, which usually would make a difference in a poorer (let alone impoverished) community.
posted by Mchelly at 12:09 PM on April 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I read the New York article a few days ago and was appalled by both the situation and the author's suggestion toward the end that the Hasidic community deserves more power/funding since their community will last longer in the town than these other immigrants. Ugh.

But what was really not clear to me is the timeline of elections and budget cuts. Has the board deliberately slashed at the public school to fund private-school education for the disabled Hasidic kids? Do the budget "shortfalls" hinge on the increased spending, or has the tax base been hit in recent years (like every other local government)? I'd be curious to see an audit report on the district's finances going back several years.
posted by stowaway at 12:14 PM on April 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't see any problem with making "has a child in the system" a requirement to be on the board.

I suppose one problem is that retired people can be really good in local government because they aren't going to work and retired people don't usually have school age children. But choosing to send your totally typical kid to a private school is often good reason for someone's involvement with the local school system to be treated with suspicion. (This was a recurring problem at my high school. There was a big push to make a plan for the school's future (it was a one-school district), which was constantly being derailed by people with no ties to the school insisting the school was 'wasting' money on whatever random thing, which you'd then have to explain to them in very small words.)
posted by hoyland at 12:25 PM on April 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Most people consider the actual impact of "ethnic cleansing" to be dead people.

Most people are wrong. Ethnic cleansing is not an euphemism for genocide. It's using violence and the threat of violence as well as other ways of harassment to get a given population to move out. The most recent example of this is Iraq, though Syria may also qualify shortly, if not already.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:40 PM on April 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


I can accept that definition. But violence and/or the threat of violence are still not the case in this situation.
posted by Mchelly at 12:53 PM on April 24, 2013


I don't see any problem with making "has a child in the system" a requirement to be on the board.

This band-aid approach doesn't solve the problem: Not only does it exclude a large number of people who could sit on the board in good faith and disenfranchise taxpayers, but it would be circumvented by electing the Hasidic parents who have special needs kids using the public school system.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 1:00 PM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


But taxpayers are an important stakeholder in districts financed in that manner and ought to have a say in how their tax dollars are spent.

Everywhere I've been, the school board does not get a say in how much total money is allocated to schools. It gets a budget from above (from the actual municipal/regional government), and then is tasked with managing that budget as well as non-budgetary priorities and large-scale policies for the benefit of students in the school district.

Taxpayers have a say in how their tax dollars are spent in the sense that they get to vote for representatives/attend and speak up at municipal and regional government meetings where the decisions for how much total money should be allocated to education are made.

Personally, I think this sort of local democracy should be more participatory - most places I've been, it can actually be rather hard to figure out how to get involved in local politics if you're not part of the in clique. But democracy is also about residents in a community getting together as equals and making decisions that affect their community. Some of these are economic decisions, but that doesn't mean that community members rich enough to be in a situation where they pay a net amount to the local government in, eg., property taxes should have a privileged voice in economic community decisions. So, while not always ill-intentioned, I really dislike this "taxpayers should have a voice" rhetoric. The people being referred to in such statements should be allowed equal democratic input on the policy (including budget) priorities of local government, yes - but due to the fact that they are residents of the community, not in any way related to their taxpayer status.

On the other hand, being antagonistic to the existence or mission of the local public schools should absolutely disqualify one from serving on the school board. A school board is in many ways a special governmental committee, set up to deal with more detailed school system management issues, below the level of broad priorities and large-scale budgeting that the local government makes decisions on. This should be a standard conflict of interest restriction on board eligibility. (Making such a conflict of interest rule more nuanced than a "has child in public school system currently or not" rule would be best of course, but also more difficult.)
posted by eviemath at 1:09 PM on April 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


I don't see any problem with making "has a child in the system" a requirement to be on the board.

I am sure both the State Constitution and the US Constitution differ on that point.
posted by Ardiril at 1:23 PM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


From something I found under the "District Divided" link, it looks as though this particular school board, and presumably New York school boards generally, proposes the amount of school tax collected, which I get the impression is validated in some kind of public referendum... which probably results in total chaos if it doesn't pass, so there's not much choice but to pass it. So, no, they're not necessarily taking a total budget "from above" and working with it, although they do get money from the state as well as from those taxes.

Does anybody know how it actually works in New York?

Also, their teaching budget for regular education was something like $47M, whereas their budget for special ed teaching was about $33M. But I didn't see any breakdown of "teaching within the district" versus "teaching in private institutions", nor, of course, is "teaching" the only account that matters. Still, does anybody know if those numbers are usual or unusual? That seems like a lot for special ed to me, but then it's no big surprise if special ed costs more per head.
posted by Hizonner at 1:25 PM on April 24, 2013


In my experience (Delaware, mainly) school budgets are determined by the available funds, which are in turn determined by what the state chooses to contribute and how much tax revenue there is, but tax rates are set by the school board. So they can control future budgets to an extent, but in any given year they're stuck with whatever the existing policies have brought in.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:28 PM on April 24, 2013


I don't see any problem with making "has a child in the system" a requirement to be on the board.

I am sure both the State Constitution and the US Constitution differ on that point.


Perhaps you would like to point out the exact section of the US and State constitution you are thinking of.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:30 PM on April 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Don't read the comments.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:10 AM on April 24 [1 favorite +] [!]

Never read the comments.
posted by andoatnp at 9:12 AM on April 24 [9 favorites +] [!]


Always read the comments. Your enemy's communications should be monitored.
posted by snottydick at 1:58 PM on April 24, 2013


Always read the comments. Your enemy's communications should be monitored.

These comments do not really qualify as "communication" in the usual sense.
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:02 PM on April 24, 2013


Your enemy's guttural howls should be monitored.
posted by DoctorFedora at 2:21 PM on April 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Always read the comments. Your enemy's communications should be monitored.

Your domestic political adversaries are not enemies, they are other Americans with a different point of view.
posted by lstanley at 2:41 PM on April 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm increasingly convinced that any and all religious separatist movements are inevitably going to result in really evil things happening. Doesn't matter if they're Amish, Jewish, LDS, or whatever, once you get a bunch of religious people building separate communities the bad parts of religion seem to get amplified and the good parts [1] get crushed.

Of course, how to address this problem is a tricky thing. You can't just go around breaking up communities by force, that leads to vastly worse situations.

I **DO** think that religious private schools may need to be either completely outlawed, or at least massively regulated with mandated time away from the school being exposed to outside points of view. You can't have a kid study religious texts all day and call that an education.

I'll go so far as to say that raising kids in isolation from the outside world is a form of child abuse. The kid does not, and cannot, make an informed decision to be part of your community when you systemically deny the kid all knowledge and understanding of the world outside your community, and also tell the kid that everyone outside your community is evil and wants to do bad things.

Community is fine, as long as everyone involved in the community knows about the outside world and makes their decision to stay in the community based on knowledge rather than ignorance.

[1] Assuming, purely for the sake of argument that religion has any good parts.
posted by sotonohito at 3:51 PM on April 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have known people who complain about crime, then demand that they not pay property taxes for school since their children don't use them, or no longer use them. Towns with large transplanted retiree populations for example. Pointing out the possible correlation between bad schools and higher crime rates does seem to do much to them.
posted by Badgermann at 4:17 PM on April 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm increasingly convinced that any and all religious separatist movements are inevitably going to result in really evil things happening. Doesn't matter if they're Amish, Jewish, LDS, or whatever, once you get a bunch of religious people building separate communities the bad parts of religion seem to get amplified and the good parts [1] get crushed.

Personal religion tends to be much less objectionable than theocracy at any level of government. Ruling in the name of god(s) does seem to make people inflexible at best.
posted by jaduncan at 4:26 PM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


This was a finely written article, I think. Was Wells really 'romanticizing' the Satmars, as some of the commenters here have suggested? I think that simply pointing out some of the allure of a closed and powerful community is not romanticizing, it is just acknowledging the human reality that such social systems have an allure for our species.

Destroying the public school district on purpose via legally constituted elections is amazingly vicious, and a perfect example of imperfect democracy at work. One obvious shortcoming of having local school districts be taxpayer run (although from the sound of it most of these guys don't pay much tax either) rather than parent run.

I have to imagine that part of the reason the Satmars were able to do this was that the public school parents they were going up against were black and immigrant families. If they'd been white and middle class, I suspect the outcome would have been a little less dire for the schools.

Great FPP, thanks for the read.
posted by A Fine Mess at 4:29 PM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I **DO** think that religious private schools may need to be either completely outlawed, or at least massively regulated with mandated time away from the school being exposed to outside points of view. You can't have a kid study religious texts all day and call that an education.

Non-orthodox Jewish day schools generally feature a thorough dual curriculum. They teach science, math, literature, etc., not just religious studies. They also teach rigorous analysis and a healthy dose of skepticism. And yes, they are also required to meet specific guidelines and are subject to Federal and State regulations.

In my experience, non-orthodox Jewish day school kids aren't particularly insulated from the outside world. At least, no more than students at any secular private school might be.

But yes, the level of religious instruction does seem to matter when it comes to Orthodox schools.
posted by zarq at 4:42 PM on April 24, 2013


Orthodox Jewish day schools also have equal secular / religious education, including AP courses in all subjects. Some, like Maimonides in Boston and Ramaz in New York City (to name just a couple out of many) send enough kids to the Ivy League percentage-wise to rival private prep schools. They sometimes do so by having classes last from 8-5 and/or include Sunday classes, but the so-called Modern Orthodox movement believes a thorough grounding in secular studies is necessary to fully understand how the world works, because that knowledge is necessary to understanding the Torah. It's only the ultra-Orthodox and Chassidic schools that give secular learning a back seat.

This is not a new thing. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, who helped found the Maimonides school, held a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Berlin. Yeshiva University was founded in the 1880's to compete with secular universities, and boasts a well-regarded Medical and Law School. And Maimonides himself was not only one of the most important Jewish scholars of the Middle Ages, he was also a medical doctor and a philosopher of secular repute.

Chassidim as a group are growing and stand out, but that doesn't make them representational of all Orthodox Judaism.
posted by Mchelly at 5:05 PM on April 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's a great piece, but its failure to mention the abuse issues endemic in these closed societies was a mistake. The author let them off too easily.
posted by learnsome at 6:23 PM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's a lot of open prejudice in those articles and, I'm sorry to say, a fair bit is reflected in the comments here.

The NYMag only gives two children a voice. One is Petit-Bois who is a very sympathetic character - young, attractive, a refugee, and striving to get a good education. What she has to say is frankly a bit disturbing:
At her aunt’s church, adults would urge one another to vote in school-board elections. “ ‘Parents,’ they’d always say, ‘Let’s go vote for the district, we’re voting against the Jews ’cause they want to cut this and this and this,’ ” Petit-Bois says. “Little by little I understood it.”
This is a shocking, openly racist statement, being endorsed by a sympathetic character and echoed over and over:
At a young age, you hear ‘Jewish’ and you automatically think, Oh, they’re trying to kill my school district,” says Tendrina Alexandre ... Because it’s all Hasidic Jews. And it’s them against us.”
There's no equivalent voice from the Hasidic side, but we do hear from the Chairman of the Board:
Elementary-school children, he said, were telling their teachers that they hated the Jews; high-school students were appearing before the board and questioning its moral authority.
If the author's quotes are accurate then this description is a very fair summary of what has been going on. It's no more than what Petit-Bois and Alexandre said. But the author characterises the Chairman's complaint as a decision "to escalate the fight by denouncing anti-Semitism". That's an appalling way to treat it. Surely anyone can see that he's got at least a prima-facie case: people are getting together in churches to "vote against the Jews" and the students themselves think that it's a matter of "them against us". Denouncing this sort of attitude isn't escalating the situation; it's refusing to sweep it under the carpet.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:22 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Joe, it's not anti-Semitism to say "Vote the Jews out, they're killing the school district." when the people you're opposing are actually all Jews and they're actually killing the school district. These non-Jewish parties in the controversy did not pick this fight.
This is one of those rare (I would have thought totally mythical) cases when it quacks like a Nazi but from available facts it seems clear that in Rockland the Jews are more or less working together to take over and in the process harming non-Jews, and being horribly cavalier about it.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 1:39 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


zarq: Gosh, I hope so.

Let me rephrase. I bet I'm not the only person who, when confronted with a statement of 'but the voters/majority approved of us!', immediately thought of the most recent instance where the speaker's people were completely fucked over by someone with the approval of the majority of voters, and thought that the people nearly wiped out by that incident ought to have fucking learned that majority rule doesn't make right.
posted by jacalata at 2:05 AM on April 25, 2013


I **DO** think that religious private schools may need to be either completely outlawed, or at least massively regulated with mandated time away from the school being exposed to outside points of view. You can't have a kid study religious texts all day and call that an education.

Absurd totalitarianism.

I'll go so far as to say that raising kids in isolation from the outside world is a form of child abuse. The kid does not, and cannot, make an informed decision to be part of your community when you systemically deny the kid all knowledge and understanding of the world outside your community, and also tell the kid that everyone outside your community is evil and wants to do bad things.

How do we define the 'outside world'? Must all school children be exposed to every possible point of view? Do you want your children to spend a mandatory three weeks a year with racists, with people who don't value education, with people who don't think women are equal to men. with any group of people who don't share your values? Do you want abstinence only sex education taught to your children? Would you want someone to teach Christian Dominionism and the rightness of manifest destiny at your local public school?

My guess is no. When progressives insist that children must be exposed to a broad range of views, they always have very definite ideas about what that range should actually be. To these communities, many of the ideas of the American secular mainstream are every bit as dangerous and repugnant as the above ideas probably are to you.
posted by atrazine at 2:16 AM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


There are two separate issues here:

- Members of the school board are (possibly illegally) diverting funds from the local public school district into their own community's private schools under the guise of funding "appropriate" special education services or raising revenues through the sale of buildings. This is leading to a drastic decline in the quality of education offered to children in the public schools, is a massive conflict of interest for the board members AND is a blatant violation of church/state separation. The practice should be stopped and it's possible that individual board members or district employees are actually guilty of crimes (they've taken funds from a public institution to give them to a private one in which they have an interest, but the details aren't clear from this article.)

- Members of the community who aren't Hasidim are organizing - often in overtly anti-Semitic ways - to to oppose a massive demographic shift they don't approve of. They feel that the influx of Hasidim makes their town not "theirs" and refuse to accept that, while the majority of their children leave, the more numerous children of the Hasidim generally stay in the community. This organising is often done under the guise of saving the schools, but takes in a wide variety of strategies to try and make the community less welcoming to Hasidim who have the right to move there. The "Preserve Ramapo" site linked by the OP has details of some pretty dubious campaigns - for example, going after a condo development for racism for marketing kosher kitchens to Hasidic prospective buyers and standard kitchens to others and denouncing a planned rabbinical college for having too much child-friendly married-student housing, despite the fact that it's intended to serve a sect that requires early marriage and encourages lots of kids for its clergy. This is the same sort of campaign that tends to take place in the face of demographic shifts everywhere, and has the same ugly, racist side that those campaigns tends to develop.

So the first issue is a garden-variety schoolboard corruption scandal, similar to issues with private school vouchers and Christian schools in other states. The second issue is a garden-variety "keep them out of our neighborhood" scare, like these scares everywhere. This story is interesting, but only because the groups involved are unusual, not because the issues are particularly new.
posted by Wylla at 2:22 AM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


the students themselves think that it's a matter of "them against us".

Based on the facts as presented, it would appear to be true.
posted by jaduncan at 2:37 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


This should be a rule everywhere. I was surprised to find that it's not. You want people on a school board who are emotionally invested in seeing it succeed.

No, you want qualified people who will make decisions that are fair, evidence-based and objective. Parents aren't necessarily best placed to be those people, and often have incentives to definitely not be those people - for example, by making a decision that would benefit their children, but not the school community as a whole, then rationalising it after the fact. Like a board, or an audit committee, you want some independents who aren't afraid to speak out.

I am a parent. I send my kids to public schools.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:50 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


the students themselves think that it's a matter of "them against us".

To expand on this, voting against a religious faction based on their views often isn't based on prejudice against the group concerned; consider how people talk about voting against the fundamentalist Christian bloc when trying to ensure that the Texas textbooks don't become insane.
posted by jaduncan at 3:07 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


jaduncan, take a look at the Preserve Ramapo site - it's clear that, for at least some of the people and groups trying to save the schools from the corrupt board, the school campaign has become a springboard for unrelated campaigns intended to keep Hasidim out of "their" neighborhood or make it less comfortable for them to live there by regulating or protesting things unrelated to the schools.
posted by Wylla at 3:14 AM on April 25, 2013


BigLankyBastard wrote: it's not anti-Semitism to say "Vote the Jews out, they're killing the school district." when the people you're opposing are actually all Jews and they're actually killing the school district.

Do you actually hear what you're saying? "All the people who did xxx were of this ethnic group, so it's not racist to say that this ethnic group does xxx." Substitute Jews, Roma, African-Americans, Moslems - it's inflammatory bigotry.

Furthermore, what basis do you have to say that "they're killing the school district"? The school district has a budget shortfall. It either needs to increase revenue (which it can't do) or cut costs. It has tried to cut costs, and people are blaming TEH WICKED JOOZ rather than a weak tax base and a State government that refuses to consider the effects of their funding guidelines.

The only substantial criticism of the board's decision has been its funding for Yiddish-speaking students with disabilities. The articles don't give any figures,so I tracked some down. According to this article the external Yiddish-language programs cost a fraction of the cost of disability-support programs in the district's public schools. This may explain why the amount spent on these programs is less than a quarter1 of the amount spent on in-district special-needs education, even though twice as many kids attend private schools. And you know what? Even if you cut funding for these external programs altogether it would still only be a fraction of the annual deficit; and those kids would still need to be educated, presumably throwing the cost back onto the school district.

But sure, go ahead: blame it on the reactionary, in-bred Jews, who allegedly see the public schools "as a resource to plunder". Blame them for wanting their kids taught in a language they actually understand. Don't ask why it's cheaper to educate disabled kids outside the public school system; don't ask how much it would cost to educate them within the system. Just blame these scary, insular people for a budget deficit they can't control and, when they protest, make a reference to the Crucifixion. But it's not racist, because they actually are Jews!

1) Here are the budgets for the East Ramapo Central School District. If you download the the most recent budget you can see that less than a quarter of expenditure on "students with disabilities" goes to "tuition - other districts" and "contractual services", which I think must include all the non-public school funding for disabled students - both Jewish and non-Jewish, and including funding for kids with very severe disabilities that simply cannot be accommodated reasonably in a standard school.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:42 AM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


The "Preserve Ramapo" site linked by the OP has details of some pretty dubious campaigns - for example, going after a condo development for racism for marketing kosher kitchens to Hasidic prospective buyers and standard kitchens to others

That's a NAACP legal complaint (rather than from the site) that isn't only about kitchens, and specifically appears to have an issue with the following points:
“We want to ensure that the property is open to everyone,” said Willie Trotman, president of the NAACP’s Spring Valley branch. “All that property has gone through eminent domain (proceedings) and therefore should be available to the entire community.”

NAACP officials allege an ongoing pattern of discrimination since May 2012. They noted that a “For Sale” sign out front did not include a phone number. When a number was added, they said, calls were not returned in an attempt to discourage black buyers.

NAACP representatives posing as prospective buyers also had difficulty receiving information and walk-throughs late last year, said Wilbur Aldridge, the Mid-Hudson/Westchester NAACP regional director.

Buyers were also told the units sold for $450,000, but they actually sold for $385,000, according to the complaint.

“You get very sketchy information pertaining to sales, if any information at all,” Aldridge told The Journal News.

He said different people were shown different units. Black people were led to apartments featuring standard kitchens, while white people were shown units that featured a second kosher kitchen with two sinks and two stoves.
You're right though, the site as opposed to the NAACP does appear to have anti-semetic issues based on the sheer degree of rage about the rabbinical college and calls to 'clean house'. It does however appear to be a fairly unpleasant news aggregator rather than the actual actor in the legal complaints.
posted by jaduncan at 3:42 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'll go so far as to say that raising kids in isolation from the outside world is a form of child abuse. The kid does not, and cannot, make an informed decision to be part of your community when you systemically deny the kid all knowledge and understanding of the world outside your community, and also tell the kid that everyone outside your community is evil and wants to do bad things.

I happen to agree with this. I do think it is a very, very difficult topic that must be discussed at a national level ultimately. I am not speaking to the Ultraorthodox Jewish communities at the moment because I have not studied them but the FLDS and the Quiverful/ATI/Gothard (ultra conservative Christian communities) are raising their children to be ignorant on purpose so as to keep them in the faith and try to prevent them from attending college. The way these religions treat women as second class citizens is also troubling; teaching them to "keep sweet" means that daughters/wives are not allowed to be critical, angry, or sad or to question any actions of the father/husband.

If you are interested in the topic of homeschooling:

Homeschooled Kids, Now Grown, Blog Against the Past


Homeschoolers Anonymous

How to Escape From Bad Homeschooling
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:57 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


has any actually run the numbers on how much it costs to educate a student to the age of 18 as opposed to how much it costs to incarcerate a prisoner for an average of 10 years? I can't imagine the cost of education comes anywhere near the cost for prisons, especially when you take into account the unquantifiable value of producing a functioning, contributing member of society vs a lifetime leech to system resources.

I see corporate and right wing interests being willfully myopic on this issue due to the fact that corporate interests haven't really figured out how to bilk the government for subsidies from building schools over building prisons. But that is sure changing fast with their entrance into the charter school industry. So now I guess they can get the kids coming: send them to charter schools built by hedge funds on the back of guaranteed and inflated municipal debt, kick the unpromising students to the street where they will get them going: when they enter the prison system and turn into an even more profitable revenue stream.
posted by any major dude at 6:00 AM on April 25, 2013



Does anybody know how it actually works in New York?

A component of the school funding comes from the state - it is determined by a formula. The school boards determine what they want to spend on education and the difference is made up through a combination of PILOTs - payments in lieu of tax - usually negotiated with commercial enterprises, and Residential Property Taxes. The budget and millage rate (aka tax per $1000 of property value) are what is voted on annually by the residents. If the budget is rejected (multiple times usually) then there is also a state formula for an austerity budget that strips out everything not required to fulfill bare minimum state education requirements.

The NYS system is horrifically unequal because of all this. The higher the value of the real estate in your town the easier it is to lavishly fund your schools. That's also why most of NYS has tiny school districts - rich people don't want their property taxes to fund poorer folks.

The flip side is that if you intend to send your kids to private school (as the hasidim do) you want the lowest millage rate possible. And then of course you launch off into a negative feedback loop = bad schools, lower property values, should demand higher millage rates, but you can never win that vote. In a sense the school board is only part of the problem. The fact that such a large % of the budget electorate sends their kids to private schools means that even if you did have a bunch of public school parents on the board you'd probably still be forced to table budgets that strip the schools of funding.

Having said all that, it seems as though all of the school districts in Rockland are being forced to make hard choices. I guess the evidence you would need to show the Hasidim are screwing the private school kids would be to look at spending per pupil (ex-special ed costs) across demographically similar districts in the area, as well as examining the millage rate.

Unfortunately five minutes if googling didn't present that data. But it should be out there somewhere.
posted by JPD at 6:03 AM on April 25, 2013


As a general rule, I would suggest that no one be allowed to be on a public school board who has not sent his own children to a public school or who plans not to (by which I mean that when the child is ready for school, if the kid not going to public school the parent must step down from the school board.)

So basically, anyone aware enough of the problems of public school education to not want their children to use it, should be forbidden from getting any position where they can change it to make it better?

Anyone who is honest about the NYS public school system will admit that it sucks, and the only reason not to send your kids to private school is if you can't afford a good one. That doesn't mean it should never be fixed.

Another point I think it's important to remember is that the district, prior to the Orthodox being elected to the school board, denied requests for decent special-education. But I bet they didn't refuse to take the tax money from that community. What were they supposed to do?
posted by corb at 6:16 AM on April 25, 2013


JPD: You can find exactly what you want here. Download the files on the top row (which cover the whole district) and select the fiscal supplement for 2011-12 for the latest info. Or just click on this. [PDF]

I think it's fair to say that it gives a very, very different picture of the whole issue.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:21 AM on April 25, 2013


In reference to Wylia's commment that, "Members of the school board are (possibly illegally) diverting funds from the local public school district into their own community's private schools under the guise of funding "appropriate" special education services or raising revenues through the sale of buildings... and it's possible that individual board members or district employees are actually guilty of crimes (they've taken funds from a public institution to give them to a private one in which they have an interest, but the details aren't clear from this article.)

This is not only legal, it's specifically how special-needs funding works in the US (or at least in New York and New Jersey). If a public school system doesn't offer specific services for the disabled, and a private school (religious or not) does, then funding that is spent on services for a special needs child at a private school is reimbursed by the government. You don't just petition for money and get money - the parents pay or requisition for the specific services in the specific program, and the money is reimbursed. This is true even when a public school offers some services, but a private school offers more specialized education, such as the Arrowsmith program for kids with learning disabilities, which is starting to gain traction but not universally available (full disclosure: a family member runs a private school in New Jersey that offers this program, and has kids from around the tri-state area coming in because of it - sometimes with an hour-long commute. All of these families are entitled to be reimbursed for the covered program costs).

Parents or schools who attempt to steer this money away from special-needs education into other private uses exist, but from what I have seen, they are almost always caught because the stakes are so high - too many kids with disabilities and too few programs to serve them, leading to the most organized, informed and attentive parent base behind them. If any school claimed to offer services but didn't, or received public money for services and didn't prove that it gave that amount of services, it would not go unexposed for long.

Once again, the issue is that there isn't enough government funding for all kids with special needs, so people are going to extreme (and in this case awful) measures to get that funding for their community. This whole brouhaha started because they were unable to get government reimbursements for special needs services in any other way - here's the relevant quote from the article:

The East Ramapo School Board can, in certain circumstances, direct New York State funds to pay for special-needs children to attend nonpublic schools, but only if it deems the public school less appropriate. By the early aughts, dozens of families were petitioning the school board, arguing that appropriateness included a familiar, culturally sheltered environment. The district refused most of these requests. Many parents appealed, but the district won most of those, too.

In other school districts, the funds get allocated. I don't know why East Ramapo decided it was in their best interests not to release the funds for outside students - perhaps they were hoping to pressure the Chassidic parents to put their kids in public school, perhaps it was prejudice against the Orthodox community, perhaps it was a simple matter of budget (though in that case the current situation would probably be impossible). But if they hadn't gone out of their way to block the funding from reaching those kids, the Chassidic community would never have run for the board in the first place.
posted by Mchelly at 6:24 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Don't ask why it's cheaper to educate disabled kids outside the public school system; don't ask how much it would cost to educate them within the system. Just blame these scary, insular people for a budget deficit they can't control and, when they protest, make a reference to the Crucifixion. But it's not racist, because they actually are Jews!

Yeah, if it is actually cheaper to educate special-needs kids inside their own community than it is to educate them inside the public schools, I have no idea what everyone is griping about. The sales of the two schools may look questionable - but it would depend on how the sale were made. Did they announce intent to sell, and then everyone got to put in bids, but the Hasidim were the only ones expanding?

Whether or not we think it should or should not be, New York State mandates a legal requirement to educate special-need students at the highest level they can be educated. That is extremely expensive. Now, maybe the Hasidic community has more disabled kids - I don't know. More likely, they may advocate harder for their children than a largely immigrant community not well educated in the law, so the proportion of disabled children actually receiving accomodation may be largely Hasidic.

I am a parent. I sent my kid to one of the best public schools in the city. It was still awful. I transferred her to private school and have not looked back.
posted by corb at 6:29 AM on April 25, 2013


Mchelly - the accusation (not clear if its true) is that they are overdesignating children as needing private school special ed, in order to divert funds. As I said, not sure it's true, but that's the specific allegation.

Secret life of Gravy, note that all of the sources you link to prove that Christian homeschoolers are trapping their kids in their faith are written by people who left the faith, most of whom went on to secular colleges, and some of whom have advanced degrees from very prestigious schools. The myth that Evangelical homeschoolers and other very demanding religious groups that educate at home or privately have a 100% retention rate falls apart the minute you look at actual numbers. Even the bloggers on the sites you link refer to their former friends who are still IN these movements as "still drinking the kool aid" - it's clear that they also know lots of people who have left the groups they grew up in.

Many (most?) Hasidic groups also have high retention rates, but also have tons of former members who grew up and left - google "off the derech" for examples. Again, some people who leave leave because of actual abuse...but many others just leave because they no longer believe, don't get along with their parents, etc. That's clearly not the issue here: the issue is whether private schools run by a particular group are taking money from the school district inappropriately...not some ideological test that the majority might want to impose as to whether some religious minority teaches enough of the majority view to their kids.
posted by Wylla at 6:31 AM on April 25, 2013


I don't think overdesignating would work. From what I understand from talking with my family member, the money can only be used for specific services (and need to be itemized - you show that you've provided the services and then you get reimbursed afterwards, you can't get funded in advance). It wouldn't make sense to designate a kid as special needs just to get extra money since you would have to give that specific kid the extra level of care that they don't need - taking away valuable teaching time from the kids that do. No one would win from that.

A more interesting question would be whether a non-Jewish kid with special needs could petition to get services inside the yeshiva because they can't get the same services in the public school - whether the school could be required to let them in.
posted by Mchelly at 7:00 AM on April 25, 2013


From that PDF: East Ramapo spends way way more ($14,380 vs $11,105) per general education student. It spends significantly less ($25,942 vs $27,862) per special education student. There are only 1,742 special education students, which is practically half (6.8% vs 12.7%) the usual rate, and less than a quarter of these students with disabilities go to private schools.1

In summary: it appears that East Ramapo taxpayers are being screwed blind; special needs students are getting a bad deal; and Hasidic kids with disabilities are not getting anything like as much public educational support as other disabled kids. In other words, exactly the opposite to the way this has been reported.

Here comes the maths:
We can calculate whether Hasidic children are overdiagnosed with disabilities by estimating how many disabled kids we expect to find in that population, given the criteria used in the East Ramapo public school system and assuming that Hasidic families experience comparable rates of disability to the general population.

From other reports we know that there are twice as many private-school students as there are public ones, so you would expect there to be twice as many private school students with disabilities. There are 1,315 public-school students receiving funds or services from the East Ramapo system2 so we would expect that there would be twice as many private-school students who need that sort of supprt: 2,630.3 But in fact there are no more than 427 private school students students, a rate that is less than a sixth what we would expect.

1) The relevant figures seem to be student placement in separate settings (94) plus student placement in other settings (333), making a total of 427.
2) 1742 - 94 - 333
3) This probably overstates the case, as there are undoubtedly some Hasidic families who have placed disabled children in the general public school system, but we have no information on this and it's probably not very high. In any case, absolutely nobody is complaining about Hasidic kids in the general public school system.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:04 AM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Holy shit, Joe in Australia, you win with maths!
posted by corb at 7:07 AM on April 25, 2013


Secret Life, you raise some really important points about homeschooling, but I don't think banning religious schools is a good solution - without religious schools, the erosion of separation of church and state that is already taking place in most of American schools could turn into a horrifying trend towards Christian education for all kids regardless of religion (or lack thereof).

Creating a set of national education standards (perhaps modelled along the lines of the NY Regent's exams?) that all schools and homeschooled kids must meet might do a better job at combatting wilful ignorance without throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
posted by Mchelly at 7:07 AM on April 25, 2013


Without religious schools, the erosion of separation of church and state that is already taking place in most of American schools could turn into a horrifying trend towards Christian education for all kids regardless of religion (or lack thereof).

Or the situation in England, where religious schools are funded alongside secular alternatives, resulting, in many areas, in mandatory religious observance (to gain eligibility at the best schools) for parents who want to give their kids a chance, regardless of religious belief.

In the US, it's good to remember who the majority is - if you want national standards, which all private schools and homeschooling families must obey, consider what will happen to atheist kids in that set-up. ("It's not a religion class, per se, it's grounding in the Christian Bible, the foundation text of all Western civilization! It's in the standards, so your kid better do it if she wants to go to college! Pulling her out of the local school is no excuse! ")

It's ironic that this discussion has taken this turn, since the Hasidim in Ramapo would have expected this exact argument. Part of their reason for running private schools in their community in the first place is that they want the right to raise their own children with their own minority values, and can't do that in the secular environment that US law (rightly) demands. Ironic that the response to that is "No, their removal of their kids from the public square reduces our chance to teach them our values without their parents' consent!"

As far as I can tell, there has been no issue with how the Hasidim as a group educate their kids, except for the issues raised by people who want the folks in the funny hats to stop moving to "their" town. The only real issue here is about the behavior of the board members and their funding of the public schools. That in no sense supports the cries of "We want oversight of these people's children to make sure they don't grow up too weird!"
posted by Wylla at 7:40 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


From that PDF: East Ramapo spends way way more ($14,380 vs $11,105) per general education student. It spends significantly less ($25,942 vs $27,862) per special education student. There are only 1,742 special education students, which is practically half (6.8% vs 12.7%) the usual rate, and less than a quarter of these students with disabilities go to private schools.1


That is true, what's also true is that the buckets NYS puts the schools into for that category are massive, and mix upstate and downstate where operating costs and teacher salaries (and cost of living) are much higher, so absolute numbers may not be that meaningful. Most of the better LI districts spend 50% more than the median for their pool.

Its quite interesting to note that while in 11-12 East Ramapo spent 30% more than the group average for non-special ed programs and slightly more than the group average for special ed students. in 05-06 they spent 40% more. Its a little bit weird to compare them to neighboring districts, because most of them are placed in a different pool, but their spread over the means for their neighbors has been constant. So it does look like on a relative basis E. Ramapo is spending less than it used to on reg ed, that said in absolute terms the difference between them and neighboring districts remains quite small, and actually is often a bigger number.

Interestingly though, it does seem as though they have unusually low costs to educate special ed students.

19% of their students are classified spec ed compared with 14% for the pool. In '05-06 that number was 16% for E. Ramapo. So I'm not sure you could really argue that the Hasidim are forcing their kids into spec ed to extract money from the district.

So basically while the data does show they have relative to history and inflation defunded reg ed, its not to some remarkable degree compared to neighboring schools, and while their spec ed rates are a few hundred bps higher than neighboring schools their costs to educate spec ed is meaningfully lower.

E. Ramapo spends 29.6k per spec ed student and 14.4k pre general student, Ramapo spends 36.9k and 13.6k respectively. Although their Spec Ed rate is only 13%. I have no idea how fixed those costs are and if they were at 16% what that per capital number would look like.
posted by JPD at 8:09 AM on April 25, 2013


We can calculate whether Hasidic children are overdiagnosed with disabilities by estimating how many disabled kids we expect to find in that population, given the criteria used in the East Ramapo public school system and assuming that Hasidic families experience comparable rates of disability to the general population.

I understand why you used the assumption you did, but isn't the common assumption that disabilities are more common in the Hassidic community due to lack of genetic diversity?
posted by Jahaza at 9:30 AM on April 25, 2013


Your domestic political adversaries are not enemies

They are if you are a minority.
posted by elizardbits at 9:53 AM on April 25, 2013


Anyone who is honest about the NYS public school system will admit that it sucks, and the only reason not to send your kids to private school is if you can't afford a good one. That doesn't mean it should never be fixed.

Or if your kids get into one of NYC's outstanding selective public schools - of which frankly they should be building considerably more.
posted by atrazine at 10:24 AM on April 25, 2013


Anyone who is honest about the NYS public school system will admit that it sucks

This is ridiculously, impossibly wrong.
posted by JPD at 10:28 AM on April 25, 2013


Or if your kids get into one of NYC's outstanding selective public schools - of which frankly they should be building considerably more.

Yeah, I didn't include those because you have to show up at exactly the right time for those and prep in advance and you can't miss any of the tests, or move in from outside, and utilize those. Most people can't get into those even if their kids are really smart.
posted by corb at 10:32 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are great public schools in New York State.
posted by JPD at 10:34 AM on April 25, 2013


As far as I can tell, there has been no issue with how the Hasidim as a group educate their kids

Oh, there's tons of issues on how the Hasidim raise their kids. They don't teach them basic English, never mind math or history. They have serious problems getting jobs when they graduate, and being on welfare is higher than average (talking about the most extreme ultra-Orthodox, that is). Lots of examples of this at Failed Messiah mentioned above; there's an entire organization, Footsteps, devoted to helping folks who have left the fold and, among many other things, need help learning English.
posted by Melismata at 10:46 AM on April 25, 2013


Joe, the PDF you linked to does not show the numbers you quoted.

From the first table: spending per special education student
This school district - $29,659
Similar school district - $29,186

You also glossed over the difference in the rate of placement in 'other settings' - 20.1% in East Ramapo, against 3.0% in similar districts. So, assuming you are correct that this is the figure for 'placed in private school', it appears that East Ramapo students are being sent to private schools more than 6 times as often as you would expect. Why would parents send their kids to private school when they can enrol them in a public school and have them placed directly back in the private school, but for free?

(I am very curious about that low rate of disabilities - I looked up the Kiryas Joel district mentioned previously in the thread and it is 4%, even lower.)
posted by jacalata at 11:57 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Secret life of Gravy, note that all of the sources you link to prove that Christian homeschoolers are trapping their kids in their faith are written by people who left the faith, most of whom went on to secular colleges, and some of whom have advanced degrees from very prestigious schools. The myth that Evangelical homeschoolers and other very demanding religious groups that educate at home or privately have a 100% retention rate falls apart the minute you look at actual numbers

What myth? Who is claiming a 100% retention rate? The parents do their best but obviously some children are going to escape-- whether or not they have been educated. There have been hundreds of women and children that have escaped the FLDS communities, but there are thousands who are trapped in that life without any idea of how to leave.

I don't think banning religious schools is a good solution

I do think that standards should be set. Every child in America-- whether they are immigrant offspring, poor children, children of ultra religious families-- should have a basic, decent education because they are the future. The parents that instil in their children that science is evil, knowledge is bad, people are not to be trusted, are not raising future scientists, doctors, teachers, engineers, researchers or even good citizens. It would be a start to have every state establish some basic levels of proficiency that even home schoolers and religious school pupils need to pass.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 12:42 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


What myth? Who is claiming a 100% retention rate?

I've heard the "they will outbreed us if we don't watch them carefully, because their schools/homeschooling/rural lifestyle mean that they have 8 kids each and the kids can never leave!" argument made about urban Muslims, rural Hutterites, LDS/Mormons, Orthodox Jews, Hasidim, evangelical Christians across the board, Calvinists, all religious homeschoolers regardless of faith, the Amish, etc. Richard Dawkins makes this sort of claim in his arguments against faith schools, and may be the source of its current popularity (?). The numbers of people entering and leaving various faiths in the US just don't bear this common myth out. (Nor, I should add, do they bear out the claims sometimes made by the other side - that atheists and the unaffiliated are forcing their kids into atheism and a harmful 'lifestyle' and keeping them so ignorant about religion that they are forced to stay atheist...)

"There have been hundreds of women and children that have escaped the FLDS communities..."

The problem with the FLDS is not their school or homeschool curriculum, it's that adults in powerful leadership positions are documentably guilty of child physical and sexual abuse, and other serious offences. The history of why the states involved have not gone after them is irrelevant to the issues being discussed in this thread.



This thread has moved from a discussion of the actual issues raised by the OP - possible corruption or diversion of funds in a particular school district and the questionable and possibly prejudiced campaigns being run which purport to target that possible corruption - into a discussion of why some mefi-ites don't want other members of that community who aren't on the school board to be allowed to educate their kids privately, to a discussion of several other religious minorities not even involved in the dispute and why their rights to educate their kids should also be limited. That hardly increases my belief that mandatory national standards could work without trampling the freedoms of all minorities, including atheists.

Oh, there's tons of issues on how the Hasidim raise their kids.

As evidenced by the second half of my sentence, there does not appear to be any issue being raised about the private yeshivas in this district that is relevant to the discussion of public school funding that is happening there. I am glad that there are organisations to help people who want to leave Hasidic communities...and I'm also glad that the wider community (whether that's the rest of the town, the state, or the country as a whole) can't force the Hasidim who want to stay to limit their observance or leave.
posted by Wylla at 3:02 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, there's tons of issues on how the Hasidim raise their kids. They don't teach them basic English

You know, I find that I actually am not okay with shaming minority immigrant communities who don't teach their kids English well enough for outsider's standards.
posted by corb at 3:31 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am currently working with several people who were educated exclusively in religious Jewish schools and, as a result, had to learn English as older adolescents, have had almost no education in math, history, civics, the sciences, or any other standard subjects, are unqualified to attend four year colleges, and are unemployed in this economy.

Refusing to educate a child to meet minimum societal standards (e.g. GED equivalent) is hard for me to distinguish from other forms of abuse. It's not insurmountable, but it's a very significant setback that likely permanently derails many from being able to pursue certain interests and opportunities.

If you want to have a separate religious school where everyone spends a lot of time reading a religious text and praying and speaking a language other than English, I have no problem with that. But if you want to dedicate your school to doing only those things and exclude other subjects, I think that's a tragedy inflicted on powerless children whom the government must protect from your fucking apocalypse of bad ideas.
posted by prefpara at 3:51 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know, I find that I actually am not okay with shaming minority immigrant communities who don't teach their kids English well enough for outsider's standards.

Strictly speaking, they're arguably not an immigrant community at this point. (I might be mistaken, but I have the idea there isn't much ongoing immigration.) But I agree with your broader point.

(That said, if we're arguing about the quality of education, which I think we may be, there's a case to be made that if you claim to provide a decent education in the US, it needs to include enough English to study at an English-language university. Of course, people the world over can show you that you can meet that standard without teaching in English.)
posted by hoyland at 4:21 PM on April 25, 2013


Jacalata wrote: Joe, the PDF you linked to does not show the numbers you quoted.

Oops. I got my figures from the 2011 report despite linking to the 2012. They are similar, but that was very sloppy.

So, assuming you are correct that this is the figure for 'placed in private school', it appears that East Ramapo students are being sent to private schools more than 6 times as often as you would expect.

That figure does stick out. From some research I think "other settings" means "incarcerated, home-schooled and parentally placed in nonpublic schools" but receiving some services (e.g., speech therapy) via the public system. This figure can be explained by three things:
1) Students in East Ramapo public schools are under-diagnosed, so a "normal" rate of private school students receiving therapy via the public system will look higher;
2) There are many more private than public school students (a 2:1 ratio). This is apparently very unusual;
3) The local private schools rely on the public system more than private schools in comparable districts. This seems reasonable: they're not expensive academies; they're the Hasidic community's own version of public schools for their community and they're relatively poorly funded.

A fourth possibility is a higher rate of disability diagnosis in Hasidic schools, but I'd want to see more data on that.

Why would parents send their kids to private school when they can enrol them in a public school and have them placed directly back in the private school, but for free?

I think those are the kids in "separate settings", and there are only 110 in the district. This figure must include non-Hasidic kids, as well as Hasidic kids who have disabilities that would mean they cannot be taught in the district public schools anyway. The figure for children in "separate settings" in East Ramapo is basically the same as anywhere else, although it's possible that Hasidic kids are over-represented and others are unfairly under-represented. We would need more data on that.

Anyway, the short answer is that you can't do that. The parent would have to show that the child can't be placed in a public school, and only a handful of parents have succeeded in doing that. We're literally talking about a few dozen kids.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:28 PM on April 25, 2013


The Hasidim are no longer considered an immigrant population. In some cases, there are now families with three generations who have been born in the US.
posted by zarq at 4:59 PM on April 25, 2013


The figure for children in "separate settings" in East Ramapo is basically the same as anywhere else, although it's possible that Hasidic kids are over-represented and others are unfairly under-represented. We would need more data on that.

It's not the 'separate settings' category that's way out of whack with the comparable districts, it's the 'other settings' category. But I can't for the life of me figure out what 'separate settings' and 'other settings' mean. I would normally assume 'separate settings' means 'in the school, but never in a general ed classroom' and 'other settings' means 'not in the district's schools at all'. But that makes having a category called 'less than 40%' a little odd, as that also includes 'never'. Why is this the only table in the whole PDF not explained in excruciating detail?
posted by hoyland at 5:05 PM on April 25, 2013


Anyway, the short answer is that you can't do that. The parent would have to show that the child can't be placed in a public school, and only a handful of parents have succeeded in doing that. We're literally talking about a few dozen kids.

The "only a handful" was before the Hasidic community gained control of the school board. From the paragraph after the one you're referring to: It has granted so many [requests], in fact, that the New York State Department of Education has formally notified the district that it is violating the law.
posted by hoyland at 6:10 PM on April 25, 2013


The Hasidim are no longer considered an immigrant population. In some cases, there are now families with three generations who have been born in the US.

I think it's really tricky to define that. Personally, I tend to define "immigrant community" as "a community which originated in another place, tends to live with other families of that origin/culture, still maintains a unique culture and language, and has not assimilated with the general population." For example - someone whose grandparents and parents were all full-blooded Russian, grew up in a Russian enclave speaking primarily Russian, was educated in Russian school, attended a Russian Orthodox church, and married a Russian when they came of age, would still in my view be part of the Russian immigrant community. (to choose one example)
posted by corb at 7:19 PM on April 25, 2013


You're redefining a term that has a very clear and unambiguous definition according to your personal opinion.

This is not an immigrant community. They're Americans, US citizens who have chosen to isolate themselves for religious reasons and lead insular lives in opposition to modern society and the effects of cultural diffusion. I do not believe they should be held to a different standard, or given a pass compared to other minority groups. Certainly not for their religious beliefs, any more than I would demand special treatment or consideration for being Jewish. (I would not.)
posted by zarq at 7:35 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


To be clear: I don't think the Hasidim should get special treatment compared to other minority groups. I do, however, find it troubling when any minority community is pressured to "learn English" "assimilate", is spoken of as being on "welfare higher than average", or bad for "trying to keep them in the faith." This has some startling xenophobic overtones and I am not okay with them.
posted by corb at 3:39 AM on April 26, 2013


corb: "I don't think the Hasidim should get special treatment compared to other minority groups. I do, however, find it troubling when any minority community is pressured to "learn English" "assimilate", is spoken of as being on "welfare higher than average", or bad for "trying to keep them in the faith." This has some startling xenophobic overtones and I am not okay with them."

They have very high numbers of people living below the poverty line. They are on various welfare-type programs in very high numbers. No one who knows anything about the Hasidim disputes that.

Kiryas Joel is a Hasidic Satmar community in Orange County, NY. I mentioned it upthread. Wikpedia: "According to 2008 census figures, the village has the highest poverty rate in the nation. More than two-thirds of residents live below the federal poverty line and 40% receive food stamps." Source 1. Source 2 From the recordonline link, Kiryas Joel has a poverty rate of 68%. The rest of Orange County has a poverty rate of 10.9%. It's been like this for years.

Another Hasidic enclave (the largest) is in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. From 2009: "With nearly a 60% rate of Jewish poverty, Williamsburg is the “Mecca” of Jewish poverty in Brooklyn, including over 30,000 needy Jewish individuals, according to the Met Council. Local nonprofits report a recent spike of over 30% in food stamp enrollment and requests for food assistance, highlighting the need for a kosher soup kitchen in this neighborhood."

And it's gotten worse over the years. This article is from 1997. It's an oft-cited NYTimes analysis of Hasidic Williamsburg: "At least one-third of the estimated 7,000 Hasidic families in Williamsburg receive public assistance, according to neighborhood leaders. The benefits, including welfare payments, food stamps and subsidized housing, sustain the families with as many as 10 or 12 children; they fill the cash registers of the kosher supermarkets on Lee Avenue and help underwrite much of the work done by the Hasidim, whether in schools, retail stores or factories."

An editorial from the aforementioned Failed Messiah blog pinpoints the problem. UltraOrthodox Jews often have high birth rates, and in the cases of Hasidic communities that can lead to life being unsustainable without regular, large influxes of money. Without the social programs offered by state and federal authorities and the charity of others, they would simply be unable to continue live the way they do, long term.

No one is being xenophobic about their reliance on social programs. We are however, being realists and paying very close attention. My family's tax dollars do help support those communities.

Regarding education, there have been multiple studies, books and dissertations that have discussed the nature and various deficiencies of Hasidic schools and private education programs. There is often a strong emphasis on religion over secular subjects like science, math and English. There have been concerns raised over the years that children are not being educated properly.

Whether you personally feel that looking at these issues truthfully with an eye on how they affect the larger population is helpful or not, it is absolutely not xenophobic to do so.
posted by zarq at 5:22 AM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, and by the way, this is not an issue restricted to Hasidic sects. There is an ongoing debate in Israel about state assistance to the ultraorthodox 'Hareidi" communities, now 700,000 strong. They have an ~60% poverty rate.
posted by zarq at 5:38 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Slightly off subject, but in case anyone is interested.... Unpious Magazine is a site which publishes essays from people who have either left the Hasidic sect (ex-Hasidim) or UltraOrthodox Judaism, or who are perhaps living double lives within those movements.
posted by zarq at 7:54 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sorry, I left out a link in my long comment above. This is the 1997 NYT article which discusses Hasidic poverty.
posted by zarq at 8:59 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


No one is being xenophobic about their reliance on social programs. We are however, being realists and paying very close attention. My family's tax dollars do help support those communities.

Zarq, I don't doubt any of the statistics - or even the reliance on social problems, etc. I'm just saying that this reminds me too much about, say, how people in the immigration debate talk about "Mexicans", or how racists talk about "the blacks", and it really squicks me - even though it may be based on objective pieces of data.
posted by corb at 9:26 AM on April 26, 2013


pretty big difference between a group that intentionally goes out of its way not to integrate into society (or even the 19th century) and groups that are being excluded by others.

Last time I checked African-Americans weren't exactly clamoring for segregated schooling.
posted by JPD at 10:00 AM on April 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


corb: "I'm just saying that this reminds me too much about, say, how people in the immigration debate talk about "Mexicans", or how racists talk about "the blacks", and it really squicks me - even though it may be based on objective pieces of data."

As JPD mentions, there is a difference. The Hasidim have, much like the Amish, deliberately separated themselves from modern society. In many cases both African-American and Latino communities have been prevented from doing so by informal racist practices. In some cases by oppressive racist laws. In contrast, the Hasidim are making choices, and are not being oppressed into them.

I honesty don't know what to tell you here. I think the assumptions you're making, which are obviously coming from a lack of knowledge of the community, are really rather lousy. The Hasidim are a clearly identifiable community of people who are acting in clearly identifiable ways.

I'm Jewish. I self-identify as a theist. I'm not discussing these topics out of racism or xenophobia or antisemitism. I highly doubt that anyone else here is, either. And we should not have to pass some sort of arbitrary litmus test in order to be able to discuss what's happening honestly without being called racists.

If you want to counter the conversation with facts, figures, studies, etc., verifiable information, have at it. But what you are insinuating about people's motivations, including mine, strikes me as pretty shitty behavior.
posted by zarq at 10:33 AM on April 26, 2013


As JPD mentions, there is a difference. The Hasidim have, much like the Amish, deliberately separated themselves from modern society. In many cases both African-American and Latino communities have been prevented from doing so by informal racist practices.

I think it's a more complex matter than that. In some cases, particularly in Hispanic communities, and others, the separation is itself a desired outcome. You see this with a host of different communities - people in the US still making arranged marriages with home countries-of-origin, still living and working and socializing only with those people who match their community.

I think that for some reason, people are seeing the Hasidim as unique - not similar to any other community whatsoever - and I think that's flawed. I don't know why that's the case - I genuinely don't - and can only speculate. But everything that's been raised so far is something that is common to multiple communities that are not treated in the same fashion, so I do wonder what it is about the Hasidic community that raises such ire.

Zarq, I think you're a good guy, and I respect your opinions. That's why this is really hard for me to understand where you are coming from - what makes it okay to say these things about the Hasidim, whereas it would not be okay to say these things about other communities.
posted by corb at 10:49 AM on April 26, 2013


I think it's a more complex matter than that. In some cases, particularly in Hispanic communities, and others, the separation is itself a desired outcome. You see this with a host of different communities - people in the US still making arranged marriages with home countries-of-origin, still living and working and socializing only with those people who match their community.

Most immigrant groups have pretty similar out-of-group marriage rates for second generation immigrants. I just saw a biggish piece in the Atlantic I think showing how the path for recent Hispanic immigrants in the big cities is pretty similar to what happend to the big waves of Italian immigrants.

So yeah, the Hasidim are not unique, but their parallels are the anabaptists/mennonites, not Hispanics and South Asians.
posted by JPD at 10:59 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's not even an accurate parallel. The Anabaptists/Mennonites/Amish believe in paying their taxes and generally contend that one should be financially independent, not dependent on the government too much (IIRC, they believe in most taxes that will contribute to fixing roads and such but not paying into Social Security, since their elders are taken care of by their families).
posted by Melismata at 11:49 AM on April 26, 2013


I think the language thing is a red herring in this comparison. Yes, there are Hispanic groups that are retaining Spanish as a primary language into the third and fourth generations (for example), and I agree that this can be a good thing for America. But they are not keeping their kids from learning English by keeping them in Spanish-only schools. That's a huge difference.

The comparison to the Amish is closer, since it's a community that by and large just wants to be left alone to raise their families the way they think is right. But the difference is, the Amish don't accept welfare or other government benefits (and as a tradeoff, they don't pay Social Security taxes or pay into Medicare). For the most part, the Chassidic community in question (and I think it needs to be pointed out that this is NOT true of all Chassidim) are well-versed in how to take the fullest advantage of the American welfare system, and expect to give nothing back in return. A good number of the people in the community are running cash-only businesses, and since they don't use the internet or trade outside the community, it would be very hard to catch them to prosecute for tax evasion.

How they choose to worship or raise their children doesn't bother me on a personal level, though I think it's horrific that they won't teach the math and English skills that people need to survive. But if they're breaking the law, or taking advantage of the safety net because they believe they're above the basic moral premise that people should be self-sufficient, that does bother me. The article mentions how many safeguards Tomche Shabbos puts in place so that no one will be embarrassed or humiliated for receiving tzedaka (charity). But there is no shame at all in taking welfare - they don't even consider that to be charity. And that needs to change. It's one thing to not be able to get a job. It's another thing entirely to raise generations of men who believe that getting a job is for suckers. (I say men because the women by and large do hold jobs, at least until they have too many children to continue to leave the house).

All the great Talmud sages had jobs. Learning Torah as a profession was not something anyone could do - you had to be brilliant enough for the yeshiva to accept you, and have family to support you. Now it's a way of life. And as a religious Jew and a tax-paying American, I am deeply uncomfortable supporting it. I just hope that a way can be found to convince them that they are injuring more than just their small town by their actions - before (as some of the above comments along the lines of "how can it be anti-Semitic if it's demonstrably true" have proven) a lot more harm is done to the entire Jewish community.
posted by Mchelly at 12:07 PM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'll defer to people like zarq and Mchelly and others who have vastly more knowledge of and involvement with Judaism than me, but when it comes to examining the outcomes – when you look at the actual effects of what's happened on the local school system – I think the religious angle is basically neither here nor there.

The problem is not that the Hasidim want to live in a community in which Yiddish dominates English, or is even the exclusive language. That's their right. Nor is it that they want little if anything to do with other people who live in the same municipality. That's their right too. Nor is it that they're a community with historically high levels of intergenerational poverty, and often depend on payments from the state in order to eke out a living. That's what the welfare state is for, in as much as it exists. (I'd no more castigate a Hasidim family for accepting food stamps, welfare payments and subsidised housing than than I would scorn a British family with many kids and unemployed parents for accepting child benefit, jobseeker's allowance and housing benefit.)

The problem is that some members of that community have deliberately have taken control of, and are actively dismantling, a part of the local government infrastructure which is of no personal benefit to them, and which therefore they have no interest in maintaining, despite the fact that everyone else in that community relies upon it functioning as well as it possibly can in order to provide an education for kids – which as far as I'm concerned is as basic a human right as food, shelter and safety. They are doing this for ends that do not benefit the local community as a whole, and are actively pursuing policies in which the children of everyone else in that community are quite possibly irreparably harmed, for their own reasons.

I don't really care what those reasons are, and in the final analysis I don't think it much matters what those reasons are: the men who run the school board simply do not care – or refuse to acknowledge – that this system they are in control of is vital to everyone but them, and as the people controlling it, they have a moral duty to make sure it works as well as possible, for the benefit of all concerned.

I mean, does it really matter why you're gutting school budgets and programs when the end result is so few teachers that there are high schools in which kids spend more than half their school day not being taught because there's nobody to teach them? Where there are so few teachers that it takes not four but six years to graduate, for much the same reasons? Where – as was the case in one school mentioned – the building was left to deteriorate to the point where there was no running water?
posted by Len at 1:34 PM on April 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'd just like to remind people, yet again, that New York State's own figures do not support the claims made in the article or, indeed, the claims made by many people here. They show that the Hasidic schoolkids in the district vastly outnumber the non-Hasidim, and that despite this, it is the non-Hasidim who receive almost all the benefits of public schooling. They show that there are hardly any Hasidic kids, relative to their population, who receive any public benefits from special education. They show that East Ramapo spends vastly more on educating kids than comparable districts, or indeed the State average. They show that even if every false claim about the special-education kids were true, the East Ramapo school system would still have a deficit

Basically, every claim about them abusing the public school system or dismantling it is a lie, promoted by lazy racists who uncritically parrot claims about Hasidim being shiftless, ignorant, inbred xenophobes. I wouldn't tolerate this sort of hate speech about any other ethnic group and I am surprised and saddened to see people repeating it here.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:05 AM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Incidentally, you would be surprised how many businesses in New York State are run by Hasidim. I would be very surprised if, per capita, they were not net contributors to the tax system.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:06 AM on April 27, 2013


Joe, perhaps you didn't read my last comment, as it was a while back, where I pointed out that there is something unusual in the very table you are insisting means that this school district is no different than the districts it is compared to. I also said that it's not clear what that variation means because the terms aren't explained. Perhaps someone with school age kids in New York is familiar with these reports and can tell us the numbers are roughly what we'd expect in this district. You don't get to accuse every other person in the thread of racism because they read a table and told you it doesn't say what you claim it does.

They show that the Hasidic schoolkids in the district vastly outnumber the non-Hasidim, and that despite this, it is the non-Hasidim who receive almost all the benefits of public schooling.

Like... having a school that employs enough teachers to let them have a full class schedule?

They're not quite there yet, but they're in danger of not even offering enough classes to enable their students to go to college. Not offering enough classes for an Advanced Regents Diploma means either not having two years of science or three years of math. (Checking their exam review schedule, they likely don't offer a fourth year of math as it stands, which jibes with the five empty periods in that kid's schedule.) For comparison, I'm from Illinois, where the state requires three years of math and two years of science to graduate from high school.* My school offered enough classes that I had half a lunch my senior year and my brother took gym before the school day officially began.

If even half of what is described in the article is true, the school board is doing a bad job. I don't know how you can argue with a straight face that they're a decent school board, but you've continually refused to acknowledge they've done anything dubious and insisted that any suggestion to the contrary is motivated by racism, so I'm not sure what else you're doing.

*In the interests of full disclosure, this standard is recent and was controversial. That's pretty much the minimum you need for a four year college, which was the argument for increasing the requirements. The counterargument was that not every student will go to college and the ones that won't will be better served if you let them graduate, rather than have them drop out because they can't pass geometry.
posted by hoyland at 6:49 AM on April 27, 2013


They show that East Ramapo spends vastly more on educating kids than comparable districts, or indeed the State average.

No- look at what the neighbor school districts spend. Its within 5% or so of what East Ramapo spends. As I said earlier looking at statewide numbers isn't very helpful because of the differences between downstate and upstate.

They show that even if every false claim about the special-education kids were true, the East Ramapo school system would still have a deficit
And this could be because of a lower than normal millage rate. Which would be congruent with the claims.

You can't dispute that relative to history the E. Ramapo school board has defunded the non-special ed programs. Which is congruent with the claims.

Which isn't to ignore the data the contradicts the claims, just that I'm not sure there is a conclusion to be drawn from the data.
posted by JPD at 7:12 AM on April 27, 2013


I would be very surprised if, per capita, they were not net contributors to the tax system.

No. I would be similarly surprised if that was the case. Something like 50% of the Hasidic communities upstate receive some sort of transfer payment from the state. I believe the numbers are similar if slightly lower in Brooklyn. Kiryas Joel is literally the statistically poorest city in the entire US. Half the families there are below the poverty line.

I mean read this article and tell me how you respond

The community is basically built around maximizing transfer payments to the state. Most of the jobs woman have outside the home are intentionally designed to avoid hitting thresholds that reduce transfers.

I doubt B&H is making up the difference.
posted by JPD at 7:24 AM on April 27, 2013


Hoyland wrote: there is something unusual in the very table you are insisting means that this school district is no different than the districts it is compared to.

I'm not sure I'm reading your first sentence correctly, because I never said that. The district is very different from other districts in several ways. One is that most of the school kids go to private schools; another is that it spends vastly more per-capita on (general, not special-ed) education. I don't know why this should be the case, but it's obviously inconsistent with the allegation that Hasidim are spending money on their own kids at the expense of others.

If even half of what is described in the article is true, the school board is doing a bad job.

The author doesn't supply sufficient information to allow us to assess its claims, which is why I had to go hunting for the data myself. On the other hand, he quotes a lot of racists with approval, and then goes off on a long tangent about his troubled relationship with Judaism. So no, I don't see any reason to presume that "even half" of the article is correct.

I also said that it's not clear what that variation means because the terms aren't explained.

As I explained above: from my research I think "other settings" means "incarcerated, home-schooled and parentally placed in nonpublic schools". But you know what? It really doesn't matter, because you can add the "other settings" and "separate settings" together (as I did) and assume that they're all Hasidim (as I did) and you still have a figure that is less than a sixth of what you would expect.

you've continually refused to acknowledge they've done anything dubious and insisted that any suggestion to the contrary is motivated by racism, so I'm not sure what else you're doing.

You're making a lot of claims about what I said. My research doesn't show anything other than the fact that the author was prejudiced and is either ignorant or innumerate. It doesn't show that the school board are competent or virtuous; I have no way of assessing that. It is enough for me to show that the facts in issue are false.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:27 AM on April 27, 2013


They show that the Hasidic schoolkids in the district vastly outnumber the non-Hasidim, and that despite this, it is the non-Hasidim who receive almost all the benefits of public schooling.

Actually, I think I misread this sentence earlier. Of course the non-Hasidic kids disproportionately benefit from the public school system. They're disproportionately the ones who go to the public schools! The Hasidic community opted out of those benefits. It's not some act of benevolence that their tax money goes to the public schools, it's called being a member of society.
posted by hoyland at 7:28 AM on April 27, 2013


Checking their exam review schedule, they likely don't offer a fourth year of math as it stands

Nah that's the NYS Regents Exam Schedule. Its a statewide standardized subject test. They've only ever offered three years of exams for math, so you wouldn't see a fourth year show up on that page even if they offered it.
posted by JPD at 7:29 AM on April 27, 2013


Nah that's the NYS Regents Exam Schedule. Its a statewide standardized subject test. They've only ever offered three years of exams for math, so you wouldn't see a fourth year show up on that page even if they offered it.

Ah, sorry. The Math B exam is listed on the Regents website as a fourth exam, but no longer exists.
posted by hoyland at 7:33 AM on April 27, 2013


You're making a lot of claims about what I said. My research doesn't show anything other than the fact that the author was prejudiced and is either ignorant or innumerate.

What exactly was this part about then?
Basically, every claim about them abusing the public school system or dismantling it is a lie, promoted by lazy racists who uncritically parrot claims about Hasidim being shiftless, ignorant, inbred xenophobes.
Consider the following from the linked New York Times article:
In their petition, the residents noted that the State Education Department had determined that the district has had a practice of placing students with disabilities in private schools without first documenting that there was not an appropriate service for the students in a public school.

The petition also cites the board’s efforts to sell two former elementary schools to yeshivas. Critics said the sales were for prices below what the buildings were worth. One sale has been annulled by the state and the other has been halted pending an investigation by state officials.
There are definitely some discrepancies between this New York Times article and the magazine article, which are as follows. The magazine article implies the investigation into special education services was ongoing. Perhaps the complain referred to by the NYT misrepresented the status of investigation, perhaps not. IIRC the magazine article does not say the school buildings were sold. Rather it says there were leased. I'm assuming they were leased when the sales encountered problems. But, unless the NYT is running a campaign against the Hasidim for some reason, it's a decent bet they bothered to check that these investigations a) actually happened and b) reached the conclusion included in the complaint.

As I explained above: from my research I think "other settings" means "incarcerated, home-schooled and parentally placed in nonpublic schools". But you know what? It really doesn't matter, because you can add the "other settings" and "separate settings" together (as I did) and assume that they're all Hasidim (as I did) and you still have a figure that is less than a sixth of what you would expect.

It would be helpful if you showed your sources for your interpretation of 'other settings'. I'm happy to conclude there's nothing weird about those numbers.

Of course, that isn't the complaint. The complaint (see the quotation above) is that the district is paying for private special ed placements (in religious schools) without properly assessing whether the students could be accommodated in the public schools. As I understand it, the board hears appeals from parents about special ed placements.

Anyway, I'm selectively replying to your comment because I have to go out, rather than ignoring parts.
posted by hoyland at 7:51 AM on April 27, 2013


[One comment deleted; let's not make this personal please.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:54 AM on April 27, 2013


Are there more detailed comparisons available? The story says that the school board is cutting particular program areas, and overall per-student spending says exactly nothing about whether that is true.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:52 AM on April 27, 2013


Usually what separates high schools in terms of class offerings in NYS is AP tests offered/taken. That data is out there and you would want to compare that data versus data ten years ago, and then compare that to how the neighboring districts have changed.

One problem with any analysis is that all of the NYS public schools have had budget issues over the last ten years, so you need to separate out what's the market per se, and what is school/district specific.

Probably also look at classroom size at the elementary level.
posted by JPD at 9:14 AM on April 27, 2013


I'd just like to remind people, yet again, that New York State's own figures do not support the claims made in the article or, indeed, the claims made by many people here.

They show that the Hasidic schoolkids in the district vastly outnumber the non-Hasidim,

As agreed by everyone here and the article, yes.

and that despite this, it is the non-Hasidim who receive almost all the benefits of public schooling.
Yes, everyone here and the article I read seems to agree that that's why the Hasidic group voted in to take care of it doesn't give a shit and is happy to let it be destroyed.

They show that there are hardly any Hasidic kids, relative to their population, who receive any public benefits from special education.
No, I don't think the numbers I've seen do show that. Especially given there is nothing telling us which kids are Hasidic and how many of them are disabled. The claim in the article was not that there are too many Hasidic kids receiving disabled education, but that there are too many of them being sent to Hasidic private schools to receive it when the public school could provide the education they need. Given the lack of clarity around 'other' and 'separate' education, I don't think you've shown what you claim.

They show that East Ramapo spends vastly more on educating kids than comparable districts, or indeed the State average.
Yes, it does. Very curious what it's being spent on for them to still be suffering the cuts described.

They show that even if every false claim about the special-education kids were true, the East Ramapo school system would still have a deficit
I haven't seen anyone claim otherwise, but I have seen people claiming that if the school board cared about the kids in public schools, they'd provide running water and teachers just like all the other school districts in NY do, even under the lowering budgets everywhere.

You appear to now be making the dubious claim that it is not possible to run this school district any better, and it is an unrelated coincidence that, as you agree, the school board is made up entirely of people who do not gain any personal benefit from having a functioning public high school. I don't believe it.
posted by jacalata at 11:50 AM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


And this could be because of a lower than normal millage rate. Which would be congruent with the claims.

So it seems like the "problems" here are less about how the particular school board executives allocate the money that they have, and more that the taxes in that area do not bring in enough money to adequately fund the public schools that are there, right?

If I'm not mistaken, the amount of taxes to fund the public schools are a matter that citizens vote on, right? And you know what, yeah, if I had a kid in private school, I'd definitely vote for lower taxes too. How much of this controversy is simply that with a highly active voting populace of non-public-school users, the taxes are low and the schools are defunded?
posted by corb at 3:18 PM on April 27, 2013


1) we don't know that they have a lower than average millage rate
2) What you are proposing is pretty much the definition of beggar thy neighbor

It would also be short sighted were E. Ramapo a normal community because home prices and school quality are strongly related to one another. Its actually remarkably efficient around the tri-state area - taxes vs private school tuition.
posted by JPD at 3:36 PM on April 27, 2013


Well, only short sighted if you plan on actually selling the homes - if you don't plan on selling the homes, it doesn't matter what price you would get if you would sell it. And usually it matters because the houses right next to each other will be sold at a low value, and thus you will have undesirable neighbors moving in, but these people seem as though they have no intentions to sell homes outside of the community, so this also doesn't apply.
posted by corb at 4:04 PM on April 27, 2013


Jacalata wrote: You appear to now be making the dubious claim that it is not possible to run this school district any better [...]

No, I have no way of knowing that.

Given the lack of clarity around 'other' and 'separate' education, I don't think you've shown what you claim.

As I have said a few times, even if every disabled single kid receiving education classed as "other" or "separate" were Hasidic, it would still be vastly less than the rate of non-Hasidic kids receiving integrated schooling. About a sixth, actually. And that is taking the ridiculous position that there are, e.g., no non-Hasidic kids who are blind or deaf and attend attend New York State's schools for the same, or who simply cannot be integrated into a classroom, or who are incarcerated etc.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:05 PM on April 27, 2013


Could you outline what you are claiming exactly then, Joe?
posted by jacalata at 9:01 PM on April 27, 2013


If I'm not mistaken, the amount of taxes to fund the public schools are a matter that citizens vote on, right? And you know what, yeah, if I had a kid in private school, I'd definitely vote for lower taxes too.

Gah, corb. Without wanting to open a can of worms, that seems self-centred and short sighted. You do eventually benefit from not living in somewhere with the educational standards of Mississippi, quite aside from the fact that other people's kids might also deserve a good quality education.
posted by jaduncan at 4:04 AM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jacalata asked: Could you outline what you are claiming exactly then, Joe?

I suppose I'm not actually claiming anything, so much as saying that the claims of the article are unsubstantiated.

The position of the article and the majority of comments here seems to be that the Hasidim of East Ramapo, who don't generally send their kids to public school, have elected a board which has behaved unethically in cutting general school expenditures and abusing funding for disabled children.

Taking those points in order, it is uncontested that the school district has a deficit. The board must eliminate that deficit - they have actually been instructed to do so by the State. I don't know whether raising taxes is an option, particularly since they spend vastly more per capita than other districts, but in any event they are cutting cut costs. If you follow the links in the FPP you will see that every program has its promoters and nobody is willing to sacrifice anything. So what is the board to do? And please, no responses along the lines of "I don't know, but cutting x isn't an option!" That's why the school district has this problem.

The second allegation seems to have some merit, in that the district has been penalised for failing to comply with the State Education Department's requirements for handling placement of disabled students in private schools. The problem with this is that we're talking about a very few students: allegedly 63 students over the past two years, at a cost of $325,000. The deficit is reportedly $6,000,000. So even if the school board is in the wrong here (they argue that they're acting as required by the Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) this isn't the cause of the deficit or a way of eliminating it.

The other problem with criticising the school board over this is that although they may be technically wrong, it's hard to avoid the impression that they're morally right. The State's position is that you can't just send a Yiddish-speaking kid with disabilities to a special Yiddish speaking school: you have to send them to a public school first and show that they've failed there, and then go for a re-evaluation and so forth. Which is frankly stupid when most of the school district is Yiddish-speaking. The fact that a disabled kid from this environment will fail in a public school is not controversial. It is cruel and wasteful to subject child after child to this process.

So the argument that the school board has behaved unethically rests on what now? If the factual basis for the allegations is weak or non-existent, why is there so much animosity? Well, a lot of it probably has to do with the fact that the proponents keep on going on about Jews. They see that the school board is mostly (solely?) Jewish; they blame the board for taking the decisions that have been thrust upon them by previous executives; and they fall back into ancient stereotypes. This was a bad, racist article, quoting bad, racist people; and I really hope people take a critical look at its claims.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:42 AM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm going to say this for the fourth time in this thread. They do not spend vastly more per capita than other districts.
posted by JPD at 7:07 AM on April 28, 2013


This was a bad, racist article, quoting bad, racist people
talking about other bad, racist people.
posted by JPD at 7:25 AM on April 28, 2013


So the argument that the school board has behaved unethically rests on what now?

Has the report that the board used procedural tactics to avoid public comment been invalidated? Because that's the issue that raised the first question for me, before any issue of the policies the board decides upon.
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:29 AM on April 28, 2013


I'll also point again that on a relative basis the school board has defunded the regular education program relative to history and cost inflation at neighboring schools. That alone is not evidence of anything. It could be mean reversion from a period of relative overspending, the tax base of the district might have changed have the last ten years, I don't know. But to say the data exonerates the school board is factually incorrect.
posted by JPD at 7:37 AM on April 28, 2013


Well, only short sighted if you plan on actually selling the homes - if you don't plan on selling the homes, it doesn't matter what price you would get if you would sell it. And usually it matters because the houses right next to each other will be sold at a low value, and thus you will have undesirable neighbors moving in, but these people seem as though they have no intentions to sell homes outside of the community, so this also doesn't apply.

This is of course absolutely correct. The problem is local school board governance like this is sort of predicated on the local community being one community, not two completely disparate groups.

It might be an argument for just hiving the Hasidic community off into its own district and merging the remaining district into a neighboring school. The current setup certainly doesn't provide an opportunity for a stable equilibrium.
posted by JPD at 7:41 AM on April 28, 2013


It might be an argument for just hiving the Hasidic community off into its own district and merging the remaining district into a neighboring school. The current setup certainly doesn't provide an opportunity for a stable equilibrium.

While I think people might not want to do that, because the Hasidic community may be floating a lot of money in taxes, it does raise a fascinating question. What are the laws around how much public school must be provided in a district? Does it have to serve the children who are actually using public school (in which case a one room schoolhouse in the Hasidic district might be fine) or does it have to serve all the ones capable of choosing to use public school, in which case you have a huge, empty building?
posted by corb at 8:06 AM on April 28, 2013


I don't think the math implies that community is paying more in taxes than the other residents, otherwise a community that was growing rapidly, and not using the schools would lead to overfunded schools.

Actually you'd think they pay less given their population is rising at a much faster rate than the rest of the school district.
posted by JPD at 8:32 AM on April 28, 2013


Corb, it goes by enrollment.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:36 AM on April 28, 2013


So what is the board to do? And please, no responses along the lines of "I don't know, but cutting x isn't an option!" That's why the school district has this problem.

From one of the articles in the post, they could start by reducing the millions of dollars they are spending on suing the state for telling them they are mishandling special education referrals, and they could make their special education referrals acceptable to the state so that they receive the grants that appear to be being withheld. There are also several references to the school budgets being voted down in recent years - perhaps they could leverage the voting bloc that got them on the board to have their budgets passed.

The State's position is that you can't just send a Yiddish-speaking kid with disabilities to a special Yiddish speaking school: you have to send them to a public school first and show that they've failed there, and then go for a re-evaluation and so forth. Which is frankly stupid when most of the school district is Yiddish-speaking. The fact that a disabled kid from this environment will fail in a public school is not controversial.

Most of the arguments are asking for 'cultural appropriateness' with one reference to 'familiar linguistic environment', but I haven't seen people saying that the kids literally don't speak English - the board is instead saying that they can refer the kids to the private school, and it is cheaper to do so than to send them to the public special school. Can you support this claim?
posted by jacalata at 1:02 PM on April 28, 2013


@Joe In Australia: I doubt the truth of your claims. I keep up fairly well with nationwide education news, and I have not encountered stories of other districts in New York State having such a shortage of teachers that students need six years to graduate from high school, or that other high schools have so few classes running that students spend up to half of their school day out of class.

Can you please direct me to news showing that what is happening in East Ramapo is happening elsewhere? I ask because I do not see stories in any news media reflecting a similar complete and abject failure of public schools elsewhere in New York.

@atrazine

Children have rights, and a real education is one of those rights. If the parents object and wish their child to be kept ignorant, for any reason at all, than I argue those parents are a) being bad parents, and b) violating the rights of their children.

"My child" is not in the same category as "my car". Parental rights to raise their children as they see fit are necessarily curtailed and must be carefully balanced against the rights of the children.

Can you please explain why you believe assuring that children get real education is "absurd totalitarianism"?
How do we define the 'outside world'?
The world that can be found simply by driving 10 or so miles outside their gated community. The world that can be found simply by turning on the TV. Despite your attempt to pretend that this is a deep question, it isn't, and defining "the outside world" isn't hard. Ask any of the people trying to keep their kids ignorant of the outside world, and they can define it really easily: anything that isn't their compound.

Religious compounds are dangerous, and amount to little more than brainwashing for the children. We see it over and over again. The FLDS, the Amish, and now these people. Anytime a religious group declares that mere exposure to the world beyond their compounds is hazardous to their children, we should worry. It tends to end in abuse, kids unprepared to live in the world, and other bad things.
Must all school children be exposed to every possible point of view?
No, but only because it'd be impractical to implement as there are so many viewpoints. Schoolchildren should absolutely be exposed to the main viewpoints of the nation they live in, and to the major viewpoints of the world at large. Again, you're inventing complications to dodge the point, which is that we have here a community which is desperately seeking to keep their children as close to completely ignorant as they can of the outside world.

There's many examples of this turning out very badly (FLDS, Jim Jones, etc). I don't think it's at all unreasonable to be nervous about closed religious compounds that happen to be Jewish. There's nothing magic about Judaism that keeps it from being abusive, or going to the same bad places other compounded religions do.
Do you want your children to spend a mandatory three weeks a year with racists, with people who don't value education, with people who don't think women are equal to men. with any group of people who don't share your values? Do you want abstinence only sex education taught to your children? Would you want someone to teach Christian Dominionism and the rightness of manifest destiny at your local public school?

My guess is no. When progressives insist that children must be exposed to a broad range of views, they always have very definite ideas about what that range should actually be. To these communities, many of the ideas of the American secular mainstream are every bit as dangerous and repugnant as the above ideas probably are to you.
You seem to be conflating, with the intent of raising strawmen, the idea of "exposure to the outside world" with "mandatory boarding with people you don't like". Don't strawman me like that please, it's impolite and not conducive to actual conversation.

Moreover, you're making a completely wrong assumption. I do very much want my child to know that the world includes racism, Christian Dominionism, sexism, and so forth. And he does.

My child has Christian friends who talk to him about their religion, I know this because he talks to me about them and asks about church and God and Jesus. It doesn't worry me at all, nor do I worry about him being exposed to the Christian nonsense that is everywhere in the American culture. Theists have to worry about their kids being exposed to atheism, because they know perfectly well that theism is a vile lie and that atheism is true. Atheist parents don't have to worry about their kids being exposed to theism, because we know that kids don't believe lies of that sort unless they're fed a steady diet of those lies.

My child is black, there is simply no possibility of keeping him ignorant of racism as he grows up. We've spoken to him about that, and about other forms of discrimination. And, regrettably, he's encountered them in the real world already and he's only six. I worry about him being the victim of racism, but not about him being aware of racism or exposed to the casual racism that permeates our culture. I do not fear that he will become a racist simply because he has left my house and met racists.

My child is a boy and he likes Tinkerbelle, My Little Pony, and his backpack for school is pink and purple because he liked it and picked it out. We've spoken about sexism, patriarchy, misogyny, and that many people hold the belief that since he's a boy he shouldn't have that backpack. He's talked to me about kids at school saying so. I worry about him being the victim of sexism and being tormented by his classmates for liking "girly" things. I do not worry that simply being exposed to such attitudes will make him into a male chauvinist pig.

I'm a liberal, and I live in a place where my child will grow up surrounded by deeply conservative people. I do not worry that simply by having friends who are conservative he will become a devotee of Limbaugh and Coulter.

My child is not, as you can see, raised in a compound that keeps him isolated from the world where he can be spoon fed only my own ideas. And I'll thank you to keep your insinuations of hypocritical on my part to yourself.

I do not fear that he will turn out badly, or become a racist, or a sexist, or a Christian, because I have confidence in my own philosophy and beliefs. Much more important I have confidence that by teaching him how to think, how to be critical, how to question and analyze, that he will turn out all right regardless of whether he holds my beliefs or differs from me.

Ultimately I do not believe that my child exists to take an imprint of my own beliefs and be a perfect little copy. In fact, I think that trying to make your children into perfect copies of you, and the things that must be done to make that attempt, is a form of abuse.

I try to teach my child to think, I try not to teach him what to think. If your religion, or lifestyle, or philosophy demands the opposite then I say your religion, lifestyle, or philosophy is bad. If your religion, lifestyle, or philosophy demands that you raise your children in a compound and teach them to treat the world outside the compound as dangerous and mind poison then I think you are not merely doing your children a grave disservice, but quite possibly committing child abuse.
posted by sotonohito at 3:12 PM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


JPD wrote: I'm going to say this for the fourth time in this thread. They do not spend vastly more per capita than other districts.

Yes they do. Perhaps you're looking at the figure for special education, not general education? That was what you did earlier, so I specified that I was talking about general education, not just special ed. Here's a table from the material in the PDF I linked to:
                Instructional Expenditures per pupil
                        General       Special 
                        Education     Education
East Ramapo             $14,398       $29,659
Similar District Group  $11,048       $29,186
All NY School Districts $10,963       $29,741
Look at the figures I highlighted. Much, much higher. And here are the figures for total expenditure (which includes things like debt service, transport, and administration):
              Total Expenditures Per Pupil
East Ramapo             $25,376
Similar District Group  $19,934
All NY School Districts $20,410
So they do spend more on instructional costs, and they also spend more on non-instructional costs. If you still disagreee, please quote the figures you're using so we can compare them.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:54 PM on April 28, 2013


Sotonohito wrote: I doubt the truth of your claims. [...] Can you please direct me to news showing that what is happening in East Ramapo is happening elsewhere?

I never said it's happening elsewhere. On the contrary, I said that the school district is exceptional.

Jacalata wrote: Most of the arguments are asking for 'cultural appropriateness' with one reference to 'familiar linguistic environment', but I haven't seen people saying that the kids literally don't speak English - the board is instead saying that they can refer the kids to the private school, and it is cheaper to do so than to send them to the public special school. Can you support this claim?


No. That's their claim in many of the stories I have read, and I presume someone would have refuted it by now if it were false. Remember, we're talking about a handful of pupils. I can totally believe that thirty out of an estimated three or four thousand disabled Hasidic kids are unable to speak English well enough to integrate into a public school. We don't know the nature of their disabilities, but either intellectual or physical handicaps would be great obstacles to acquiring English if the people around them speak Yiddish.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:33 PM on April 28, 2013


Joe - look at what all of the other neighboring districts spend. Look at what similarly grouped schools that are also downstate spend. The mean is useless because the variance is huge. This is because operating costs vary tremendously between downstate and upstate. E. Ramapo is a downstate school.
posted by JPD at 4:42 PM on April 28, 2013


Other Downstate Schools in that group:
Central Islip 12284
Peekskill - 12361
Brentwood 10275
Amityville 13295
Copaigue 10882
Freeport 14622
Hempstead 13200
Mt Vernon 11641
Port Chester-Rye 11589
Roosevelt 14541
Uniondale 16095
Westbury 12964
Wyandanch 10262
E Ramapo 14398

so the mean 12743 and E. Ramapo isn't much of an outlier
posted by JPD at 5:12 PM on April 28, 2013


JPD: Interesting (and I take your point about the variance being high) but NY State's classification is presumably authoritative. They might be wrong, but I don't think either of us are in a position to say so.

Also, East Ramapo is at the top end of expenditure even among the schools you list. With all the cuts that the school board has made, why isn't its expenditure lower? Perhaps it has higher fixed costs? It's quite perplexing.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:38 PM on April 28, 2013


I'm not challenging the classification at all. I'm just pointing out that the median isn't very useful because the cost differentials are quite big and the nature of the districts are quite different. Nearly all of the downstate schools are majority minority schools that represent little islands of relative poverty ( and non-whiteness) amongst some of the statistically wealthiest suburbs in the country. The rest of that pool is made up of the city school districts of secondary industrial cities upstate that have been in decline for 50 years. Utica has more in common with Flint or Youngstown than it does with some less nice part of Westchester County. So the grouping is maybe not so useful for comparative purposes.
posted by JPD at 8:18 PM on April 28, 2013


the board is instead saying that they can refer the kids to the private school, and it is cheaper to do so than to send them to the public special school.

Can anyone explain to me why this is actually bad? If the children will develop better in the private school, and it's cheaper for the school board to do so, what is the actual problem, and what is New York State's beef with it?
posted by corb at 2:51 AM on April 29, 2013


The paper might be wrong about it being cheaper. But none of the articles or reports I've read actually argue that the private special education is more expensive, or that these kids don't need it. I suspect that NY State's main concern is that it's a bad precedent.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:42 AM on April 29, 2013


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