ERCSD Monitor Recommends Cutting Transportation for 23,000 Students While Raising Tax Levy by 5.4%

ERCSD Monitor Recommends Cutting Transportation for 23,000 Students While Raising Tax Levy by 5.4%

By M. C. Millman

During last Thursday's East Ramapo Central School District meeting, the upcoming 2024-2025 budget planning fiscal status update was shared, detailing the $18 million deficit the school will face before the upcoming school year. The deficit will quickly mount to $30 million, according to State-appointed Fiscal Monitor Bruce Singer, if significant action isn't taken.

The 2024-2025 operating budget is estimated at $336,214,212 for ERCSD for a district that serves about 45,000 children. Eleven thousand of those students are in public schools, 54% of whom are English language learners, with 800 illegal migrants expanding the count.

The tremendous shortfall led to Superintendent Clarence Ellis recommending a 5.4% tax levy hike along with a complete cut to universal bus transportation for 18,000 out of 33,000 non-public school students and 5,000 out of 10,000 public school students. The cut from next year's projected $76 million busing budget would be to those students that live within two miles of school for grades k-8 or three miles for grades 9-12 of school.

Given the school district's August downgrading from Moody Investors Service, the school district can no longer get a short-term loan as no bank will be willing to take the risk on the district to bail them out.      

"The district's rating is one step above junk," Assistant Superintendent of Business Natalie Espinal said at the meeting.

And while the district offers universal busing, state transportation reimbursements don't cover the entire costs, leading to the suggestion that universal busing be rolled back to save money.

"If you want us to go out to the community and get a yes vote, don't even think about it," Trustee Yitzchok Gruber stated candidly when board members were asked to share their thoughts on making universal bus cuts. "…The only thing most of the community gets from ERCSD is transportation, and if that's going to be cut, your budget is never going to pass… The budget is not going to go through if transportation is on the line."

"There is no reason it should cost $76 million to transport 40,000 kids," said School Board President Shimmy Rose. "If you divide that, it comes out to $1,800 per child per year. Two years ago, it didn't cost us this much... Since then, gas went down again; prices went down."

The school board president went on to suggest that given ERCSD's strong buying power, the school district should sit down and renegotiate to get better prices.

"The transportation budget costs should not be more than $50 million max," Rose said vehemently.

And while state-appointed education monitor Shelley Jallow said that a district budget has to cover many "nonnegotiables" and claimed that the cost of transportation beyond the state-reimbursed level is not one of them, what she failed to mention was that with the influx of 800 "homeless" illegals mentioned later during the meeting coming in over the last year, the cost to the school district has been well over $25 million annually. 

That number is not about to go down when the majority of the illegal immigrants choose to attend the ERCSD over other, predominantly white school districts where they won't feel as comfortable as the ERCSD, whose public schools are predominantly attended by students of color. By announcing they are homeless, any illegal migrant can, by law, choose the location of the school district they want to attend while living in other districts. Crackdowns on enrollment fraud like this would be another way for the state monitor to save money rather than cutting busing and raising taxes. Given that last year, the number of "homeless" was over 1,200, with very few of those 1,200 living in Rockland's homeless shelters, it is clear the number of illegals in the ERCSD is far more than the 800 mentioned during the meeting.

Those 800-plus students reflect New York State's status as a sanctuary state, which leads to the question of why BOCES shouldn't be the one to shoulder the expense of the illegals so the burden doesn't fall on the taxpayer's shoulders.

Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski, who represents a mere 10% of the district yet was the impetus to the state sending state monitors to the district, threatened that NYS will be uninterested in bailing out the ERCSD if the district can't pass a tax levy increase. He called that failure by voters to agree to higher taxes "bad behavior."

"East Ramapo is a unique district and cannot be compared to any other district in the State of New York," Senator Bill Weber tells Rockland Daily. "The makeup of the district is unique and needs to be dealt with cool-headedness. Since day one of my term, I have been laser-focused on solving the transportation issue by shifting the costs from the local district to New York State. The minority whip, Karl Brabenac, has been doing the same in the Assembly chamber. Cuts to services are the lazy and unnecessary route; New York spends plenty of money on trivial things, so helping this district is not negotiable and should be a priority. There is no time for delay."

"The ERCSD is obviously facing a dire financial situation that has been brewing for years," Assemblyman John McGowan shares exclusively with Rockland Daily. "This is only made more challenging by the increased enrollment of students recently entering the district. However, cutting essential services like universal busing isn’t the answer. The district must ensure that its financial house is in order, but must also provide essential services and quality education to its students. I am committed to working with members of the board, stakeholders, and my colleagues in the state and county government to work through this crisis and develop solutions that make sense, are fair, and address these issues."

"The really crazy part here," says one concerned Rockland resident, "is that every week, we hear about more pedestrians being hit, and we've had two children killed by a bus in the last few weeks, and ERCSD wants to put 23,000 more kids out walking on the street with our lack of sidewalks. Or, instead, there will be 23,000 more cars getting to and from school on roads that already don't have the infrastructure to handle what we have? How many more child sacrifices do we need to have?"

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