Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Senate News Conference -- 4/30/14

Here is the recording of the Rockland Clergy for Social Justice press conference at the State Capitol building in Albany on April 30, 2014.  My remarks begin at about the 19:08 mark, though the entire recording is worth watching.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Rockland Clergy for Social Justice Meeting with New York State Leaders, Albany April 30, 2014

Many of you know that I recently joined and quickly became very intimately involved with the Rockland Clergy for Social Justice, of which I am now a founding member.  Yesterday, 28 of our members traveled to Albany on behalf of East Ramapo’s public children and their families. Christians, Muslims and Jews were one in their purpose, determination and resolution. It was a day to remember, and to serve as a template.

The following is a copy of our petition that we presented to our friends in Albany:

Rockland Clergy for Social Justice
New York State Intervention in East Ramapo Public Schools

          Governor Andrew Cuomo                      Senator Jeffrey Klein
          Speaker Sheldon Silver                         Senator Andre Stewart Cousins
          Commissioner John King                       Attorney General Schneiderman
          Senator Dean Skelos                             Chancellor Meryl Tisch
          Comptroller Thomas Di Napoli                        

As leaders of Rockland County houses of worship, we appeal to you to respond to the extraordinary disruption of education services to children in East Ramapo public schools (90 percent of whom are children of color). The disruption is a result of the dysfunctional system of governance of the East Ramapo Central School District. Please note that clergy and other leaders of houses of worship of communities adjacent to Rockland County are aware of this tragedy and support this appeal.  We call on you to

1) Authorize immediate fiscal and administrative oversight of the East Ramapo Central School District concerning expenditures, budgets and financial and administrative policies; and to

2) Revise the structure, governance and financing of the East Ramapo Central School District, and school districts similar to East Ramapo, in order to ensure that public school students have access to basic educational opportunities and resources as stipulated in New York State’s Constitution.

Though I plan to write a first hand account of my experiences over the next couple of days, I feel that it is important to get the word out immediately.  The following "briefing" of our day is described below, authored by Oscar Cohen, who serves the Spring Valley NAACP, was critical to the forming of our group, leading the charge on this issue, and putting together this unforgettable and absolutely amazing experience, and is a class-A mensch:
Twenty eight members of Rockland Clergy for Social Justice traveled to Albany on Wednesday, April 30, 2014 to meet with New York State leaders. Members included:

1.       Pastor Carl Johnson
2.       Trustee Yusuf Quinn
3.       Trustee Azeem Farooki
4.       Reverend Weldon McWilliams IV Ph.D.
5.       Rabbi Adam Baldachin
6.       Rabbi Ari Hart
7.       Rabbi Paula Drill
8.       Pastor Melvin Mungin
9.       Pastor Joel Michel
10.   Pastor Darwin Abraham
11.   Pastor Matt Poterbin
12.   Rabbi Jeremy Ruberg
13.   Elder Frances Blauvelt
14.   Rabbi Paul Kurland
15.   Rabbi Michael Churgel
16.   Trustee Ray Verhoef
17.   NAACP Paul Adler
18.   NAACP Oscar Cohen
19.   Grace Point Gospel Fellowship, Micheal Miller
20.   NAACP Ouida Foster Toutebon
21.   Elder Ed Ilarraza
22.   Pastor Gabriel Zamora
23.   Pastor Jacques Michel
24.   Trustee Faseeh Uddin
25.   Rabbinical Intern Ariella Rosen
26.   NAACP Willie Trotman
27.   NAACP Beth Brown
28.   Pastor Jacques Michel
      Meetings were held with Secretary to Governor Cuomo, Larry Schwartz, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffe, Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski, Assemblyman James Skoufis, Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, majority leader of the Democratic Conference, Senator Dean Skelos, Co-Leader Republic Conference, Senator Jeffrey Klein, Co-Leader Independent Democratic Coalition, Senator David Carlucci, Senator John Flanagan, Chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

     Respective meetings started with a prayer by a minister, rabbi or representative of a Rockland mosque. A consistent theme to the prayers was their emphasis on the education, caring and nurturing of children. Clergy represented a range of Christian, Muslim and Jewish groups, including Reform, Conservative and Orthodox rabbis.

     Clergy did not ask for additional state funds. Instead, discussion focused on the dysfunctional nature of the East Ramapo public education system reflected by the elimination/reduction of  educational and extra-curricular requirements, which have been significantly  greater than any other Rockland school districts; lowest high school graduation rates, English and math test scores in Rockland; millions of dollars in legal costs defending the board against parent complaints and violations of state education requirements brought by New York State Education Department; and having a board whose values and preferences are directly opposed to public schools in favor of segregated, religious  schools for their children.

     Clergy presented Secretary Schwartz, Senators Stewart-Cousins, Klein, Skelos, Flanagan and Carlucci, Assembly Representatives Jaffe, Zebrowski and Speaker Silver with copies of the Rockland Clergy for Social Justice petition of over 1000 signatures calling for the Governor and legislative leaders to provide immediate financial and governance oversight to the district and to revise the governance model of how public education is provided to children in the East Ramapo district, i.e. changing the current construct of how education is provided to East Ramapo’s public school children.

     In addition to the petition, officials were given background material describing the East Ramapo situation.

     Senators expressed surprise that their bill providing $3.5 million in “spin up” funds specifically to East Ramapo was refused by the East Ramapo board due to the requirement for oversight over how those are to be used. Senate and Assembly representatives indicated that East Ramapo’s current requests for additional state monies were unfounded given that East Ramapo has been given higher state aid increases than other districts.

     Rabbi Ari Hart indicated that Uri L’Tzedek, a national organization of Orthodox rabbis and persons committed to social justice, has joined the efforts of Rockland Clergy for Social Justice. Rabbi Michael Churgel of Temple Beth El, Spring Valley read a statement from Rabbi David Saperstein, president of Washington-based Religious Action Center (RAC)

     “We are deeply concerned by the current situation in the East Ramapo School District that is inhibiting public school students from achieving their full potential. We cannot allow the public schools to be weakened, denying this or future generations of students the same opportunities we and others have had. We encourage the state to intervene as necessary to ensure that public educational opportunities are provided for all students in East Ramapo and beyond.”

     Secretary Schwartz, Senators Stewart-Cousins, Klein, Skelos and Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Silver commended the assistance, passion and commitment of East Ramapo’s local representatives Jaffe, Zebrowski, Skoufis and Carlucci in working to resolve the dysfunctional state of the East Ramapo public school situation.

     The state officials indicated they were alarmed over the disruption of education to East Ramapo public school students, would seriously consider the petition submitted by Rockland Clergy for Social Justice and provide feedback in a timely manner.

     A prayer vigil was conducted which was recorded by the Capitol Media Office.  Speakers included:  Reverend Weldon McWilliams, IV Ph.D., Rabbi Adam Baldachin, Rabbi Ari Hart, Pastor Joel Michel, Trustee Azeem Farooki, Rabbi Paula Mack-Drill, Rabbi Michael Churgel, RJE.

Next steps include:

1.  Meet with Chancellor Meryl Tisch, Commissioner John King, and Regents Lester Young and Harry Phillips in a Rockland house of worship (TBD) likely in early June.

2. Encourage phone calls and written letters to Representatives Jaffe, Zebrowski, and Carlucci, thanking them for support for the children attending East Ramapo public schools

                                Assemblywoman Jaffe, 845 624-4601

                                Assemblyman Zebrowski, 845 634-9791

                                Senator Carlucci, 845 623-3627

3. Congregational visits to Albany