East Ramapo's secular groups urge residents not to seek vacant school board seats

The East Ramapo School Board meets in Spring The East Ramapo School Board meets in Spring Valley. (2012) Photo Credit: Meghan E. Murphy

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Watchdogs in the East Ramapo School District stayed away from seeking appointment to the beleaguered school board and urged others in the secular community to do the same.

The East Ramapo School Board received 12 applications for appointment to two seats vacated last month in protest, according to school district clerk Cathy Russell. Board members Stephen Price and Suzanne Young-Mercer left the board, citing intimidation and isolation from decision-making in their resignation letters.

Their letters appear to have had a chilling affect on some potential applicants.

"There's a lot of hesitation because the last people stepped down," said Alex Pena, a Rockland County Democratic Party committeeman. "It's hard to find people who want to go that route with all the scrutiny."

Price and Young-Mercer were a two-seat minority faction who questioned some decisions by seven Orthodox Jewish members, particularly pertaining to the budget. After the resignations, the remaining board members decided to appoint replacements until the May school elections.

During that period, the board will draft a budget, which school officials have acknowledged will be virtually impossible to balance.

Russell declined to release the names of the applicants Tuesday. She was consulting with attorneys on a Freedom of Information Law request made by Newsday Tuesday for the letters of interest submitted to the board.

None of the community members seeking the seat apparently comes from groups -- like Save Our Schools East Ramapo and The Power of Ten -- that have regularly mounted campaigns to oust the Orthodox board members in elections. What's more, several involved community members say they know no one who applied.

"We don't believe that anyone should apply for the job," said Peggy Hatton, a parent and a co-host of the East Ramapo Underground radio show.

Spring Valley resident Steve White, who has petitioned the state Education Department to oust the board members, felt the resignation letters indicated that new board members might have to make decisions without having access to all the information.

The board is not only grappling with a budget deficit but is being scrutinized by the state Education Department and sued by school district parents.

"You can't work in that situation, where you could possibly be held responsible for things you have no control over and you weren't even consulted about. That is a dangerous place to be," Spring Valley resident Steve White said.

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