E. Ramapo schools owe $3 million after education co-op payment

East Ramapo School Board members, from left, Daniel East Ramapo School Board members, from left, Daniel Schwartz, Yehuda Weissmandl, and Eliyahu Solomon attend a board meeting in Spring Valley. (Oct. 23, 2012) Photo Credit: Faye Murman

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The embattled East Ramapo School District made a $1.7 million payment to Rockland BOCES, but still owes the county program about $3 million, a spokeswoman for educational cooperative confirmed Friday.

Rockland BOCES, an educational cooperative for special education students, received a check Friday morning from East Ramapo totaling $1,670,530, spokeswoman Stephanie Gouss wrote in an e-mail to Newsday.

The check covers programs and services for November and administrative and capital charges for September, including money owed to Southern Westchester BOCES, Gouss wrote. However, East Ramapo still owes the county-administered program for services delivered in December. Combined with the bill for January, that means East Ramapo owes BOCES "approximately $3 million," Gouss wrote.

East Ramapo School Superintendent Joel Klein could not be reached for comment.

The financially troubled East Ramapo School District is struggling to meet its obligations, and school officials admitted in December that the district is in danger of missing payroll later this year without significant cuts.

Some parents and members of the school community are calling for the state Department of Education to take control of the district, alleging chronic mismanagement for years. The state has not indicated it will take over, but it has increased oversight, and district leaders are required to report back to the state with new plans for programs like special education.

"We are pleased to see that the district is making payments to the Rockland BOCES for services that have already been provided," said Tom Dunn, a spokesman for the education department. "It is our expectation that the district will continue to take responsible action for making the BOCES whole."

Some budget cuts were made in January, when East Ramapo axed some spring sports programs and eliminated six music teacher positions. The cuts have been another sore point in the district, which serves 8,900 public school students and another 20,000 who attend private schools. Some blame the district's financial troubles on a majority Orthodox Jewish school board, saying members are sacrificing programs and education quality in public schools in favor of private yeshivas.

In December, Newsday learned East Ramapo owed millions in back bills to education cooperatives, including Rockland and Southern Westchester BOCES. At the time, the district owed $5 million.

Last week, the district again made headlines when two school board members -- Suzanne Young-Mercer and Stephen Price -- submitted letters of resignation, alleging intimidation and harassment at the hands of the board's Orthodox Jewish majority. Those positions haven't been filled; the school board is expected to appoint replacements later in February after taking applications from interested residents.

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