A few updates on School District 15:
1.CNN reported on the conflict over the weekend (link to video here
). I think the piece is relatively balanced, aside from a few comments here or there, such as this one, heard in the video's voice-over:
Now, some parents are concerned that the Orthodox majority will use its power to divert public money to private schools, and even close some schools.
I'm quite sure that parents are concerned about both of those possibilities. I am equally sure that the first fear is an unfounded one, as diverting money directly to private schools is quite illegal. Do private school parents want to receive equal funding when it comes to those services allowed by law, such as transportation, textbooks and special education? Absolutely. But that's a far cry from any expectation of diverting funds directly to schools. And as far as closing schools? That isn't as shocking as the reporter makes it sound. If the public school population keeps dwindling at the rate it has been, there will be fewer buildings needed. It's quite simple. Nothing unfair, nefarious or conniving in that.
Another quote that made me roll my eyes, from Professor William Helmreich of the Queens College Center for Jewish Studies (their education expert of choice, I guess):
What would happen, for example, if in Dearborn, Michigan, the Muslim community decided to run people for the school board, put people on the school board, and said, that, uh, we only want half day of school on Friday? It's our religious requirement?
Huh??? That is relevant to the Lawrence school board conflict how?? Has anyone said anything of the sort here? This conflict has nothing to do with changing school policy to make a majority who do
attend the public schools more comfortable (though that is perfectly in order, hence Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana being vacation days), and everything to do with procuring equitable services for taxpaying citizens who don't
attend the public schools - to the fullest extent allowed by the law. Not to mention the fact that Professor Helmreich shows a woeful ignorance of the Islamic religion, as Muslims would not want a half day off on Friday, they would want a full day off, as Friday is their holy day. Maybe the good professor is mixing up Islam with Orthodox Judaism - he does seem a bit confused.
A great quote from school board member Pam Greenbaum:
This has nothing to do with religion, though. It has to do with money. And once you realize that, and you take the religion out of it...
Exactly right. This has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with money. A majority of district taxpayers would like to receive services to the fullest extent they are allowed. They want to receive equitable funding for textbooks, busing, and Special Education. And that has nothing to do with their religion or observance levels, and everything to do with their being equal, taxpaying citizens.
And regarding equitable services, that brings me to the second development:
2. The rumor mill has been buzzing with talk of a postponement of the referendum I mentioned here
, and The Jewish Star confirms it in tomorrow's edition:
Lawrence School Board President Asher Mansdorf has postponed the upcoming votes on pre-k busing and free use of school facilities for residents of District 15.
A source close to the discussions said the vote would be rescheduled, perhaps for sometime in March, in order to give voters an opportunity to weigh in on two other matters at the same time. A technology upgrade is to be proposed, and paid for with more than half a million dollars remaining from a state grant obtained by Senator Dean Skelos. The rest of that grant was used as an emergency expenditure in order to fix the ceiling of the High School auditorium, which was coming down, and to
schedule repair of a school building elevator which has been in disrepair for a number of years.
The decision came days after a petition asking the state education commissioner to step in and delay the vote was signed by approximately 250 voters and filed with the New York State Dept. of Education. Board member Pamela Greenbaum, who voted against the referendum when it was introduced several week ago, voted against postponing it, as well. It was a matter of conscience, she suggested. "You have to wonder what people's motives are," she said, suggesting the vote was postponed on account of the petition. Not true, said Mansdorf, who said the events were unconnected.
The petition to delay the vote apparently was rooted in opposition to the proposals presented in the referendum - pre-K busing for private school students and free facility usage for all district youth groups and associations. Mansdorf weighs in on the proposals:
The bottom line on cost, Mansdorf said, is "I have a population out there that's spending 40 or 50 million dollars a year in taxes and what do they get for it? Transportation, special ed, and books. And I have another population that spending 40 or 50 million dollars a year in taxes and what do they get for it? Transportation, and special ed, and books, and teachers, and schools and school lunches and everything else."
Sounds fair. If public school students are getting free pre-K busing (which they are), then so should private school students. That's what fair and equitable treatment is all about.
Mansdorf also makes a few points, plugging the accomplishments of the new board:
"As a result of the fact that we demanded change, truancy is way down in the high school - down in the area of 50-percent," Mansdorf said. "As a result of the fact that we demanded change, discipline has been reintroduced to the middle school. As a result of the fact that we demanded change, the principals are reporting to us on a regular basis. The high school auditorium ceiling was fixed a year ahead of schedule
because we didn't do it by committee. I told one person - get it done - and it got done."
Warming to his theme, Mansdorf continued, "We raised money from the county of Nassau to fix sidewalks at the Number Six School by hounding our county legislator. And it got done. We used Excel [grant] money to schedule repair of an elevator that's been in disrepair for years. And the only reason we have that Excel money is because one person kept calling our state senator begging for money to be used in our district.
Not a committee. One person. I've brought into the district somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 million in legislative grants since I was elected five years ago."
"I challenge anyone: come walk through the buildings with me. It's an embarrassment what previous public school boards did not do to those buildings pre-contingency. The only reason we are where we are now is those boards did not do their job."
If this board is really getting the results that Mansdorf is outlining, I applaud them. It is clear that the previous boards, who did not
have the present Orthodox majority that has Lawrence public school parents running so scared, did not do as much for the children as I would have hoped. The continued low test scores are but one sign of that, Dr. Mansdorf's examples some others.
I will update these stories as more details come in.