One of two state-appointed monitors in East Ramapo has resigned, state education department officials confirmed on Wednesday.
State officials said Overseer Denise Lowe resigned “for personal reasons” and the commissioner hoped to appoint a replacement “in the coming weeks.”
Lowe was one of two district monitors who reported to state education commissioner Betty Rosa. The district operated under state supervision for about five years, amid concerns about tax and educational fairness in the working-class district.
In East Ramapo, private school enrollment in the district outnumbers public school enrollment by approximately 3 to 1. Most public school students are children of color; many come from immigrant families. Most children who attend private schools go to yeshivas that serve the Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish community.
Bruce Singer, a former business manager and assistant superintendent of business in other school districts, serves as the district’s financial controller. Lowe, a Howell, New Jersey, school board member, worked as an education consultant, was in the role of education monitor.
The two monitors were to attend a ZOOM meeting on Wednesday evening with the parents. With only Singer on screen, a viewer asked if Lowe would be in attendance. A chat message from the district said: ‘She couldn’t join us today but Mr Singer will be there to answer your questions :)’
On Thursday, the event flyer remained prominently displayed on the East Ramapo Central School District Webpage.
Lowe could not be reached.
Singer said “without a doubt” an academic monitor should be on the team, and he hopes the state Department of Education can “move quickly” to find a replacement.
Singer said he has reached out to various communities in East Ramapo and has been receiving emails from parents about various issues including school safety. He says he has established a good relationship with the administrators and they are very responsive.
But, he added, “the problems in East Ramapo, because of the unique population, you need someone who can bridge the academic (problems).”
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Singer said that for 54% of students moving to the district, English is not their first language. A monitor with academic experience can help ensure the district is prepared for these challenges, he said.
Meanwhile, Singer said, community outreach remains paramount to him and anyone who joins the watch team.
“The divide in the community is so thick you could cut it with a butter knife,” Singer said, “and it’s not healthy.”
Reaction to Lowe’s departure
Spring Valley NAACP President Willie Trotman said the state Department of Education contacted the NAACP to let them know Wednesday that Lowe was leaving.
Trotman said it was concerning that one of the district’s two monitors was leaving mid-year.
“We wish him the best,” he said.
Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski, who helped bring Monitors to the district, thanked Lowe for his service, but saw an opportunity to bring in a new Monitor with a fresh perspective.
“This is the toughest oversight structure in New York,” the West Nyack Democrat said. “And it must succeed.”
State Sen. Elijah Reichlin-Melnick, who sponsored legislation last year renewing and strengthening the powers of monitors, thanked Lowe for his work on behalf of children in East Ramapo since joining the monitor team at the end of 2018.
“I look forward to working with the appointee from the state Department of Education to fill Dr. Lowe’s position as one of two monitors for the East Ramapo Central School District,” said the Democrat of Nyack.
East Ramapo Schools Superintendent Clarence Ellis did not immediately return a request for comment.
School board president Yehuda Weissmandl did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Spring Valley resident Steve White, a longtime school board critic, said Lowe’s tenure as monitor hasn’t produced change.
“She didn’t say anything when thousands of students didn’t have computers to access remote learning during the pandemic. She didn’t know the district was worth millions of dollars in the red. She acted more as a public relations advocate for the council than anything else,” White said. noted.
“I hope the state education department will appoint someone to replace her who will examine the real-life experiences of staff and students who are still suffering the consequences of what former Deputy Superintendent Farmer described as a ‘war’ by the board against the public school system,” White added.
Divided District Supervision
Monitors for the district were first called upon in 2014 in a special report: “East Ramapo: a school district in crisisthat questioned the spending priorities of a school board, which has long been criticized for making decisions that favored a large yeshiva community, often at the expense of public education.
The state legislature eventually passed legislation to install monitors in East Ramapo in 2016, with the promise of additional help for the cash-strapped district. But the bill was watered down to go through the then-GOP-controlled Senate, leaving the monitors with a primarily advisory role.
When the legislation was renewed last year, controllers gained more power, including the ability to veto board decisions.
Singer said he was grateful for the veto “because it gave me enhanced permission.”
Singer, who has served as monitor since March 2020, said before the new monitoring was granted, “we were watchers.” For example, Singer said, he has more access to meeting agendas and the template for “walk-in agendas,” or items that hadn’t been detailed before a school board meeting, took end.
The legislature has demanded greater powers for comptrollers following a successful challenge to federal voting rights brought by the Spring Valley chapter of the NAACP. In a decision of the Court of Appeal confirming the initial finding, a panel of three judges wrote that school board policies “beneficial to the private school community come at the expense of the public school community”.
Since the last election cycle, school board seats are now chosen by specific wards or wards, rather than by candidates running district-wide. The neighborhood voting configuration was installed to increase the chances of minorities winning one of the nine seats.
Four school districts currently have state-appointed monitors. The others are Hempstead, Rochester and Wyandanch school districts.
East Ramapo District includes the greater Spring Valley and Monsey area and is the largest district in the county.
Writer Thomas C. Zambito contributed to this report.
Nancy Cutler writes at People & Policy. Click here for his latest stories. Follow her on Twitter at @nancyrockland.