The most recent episode of This American Life devoted an entire hour to the tell the fascinating and unfortunate story of the East Ramapo school district. The story involves the all too common reality of a school board making draconian budgetary cuts. What makes East Ramapo unique and the cuts more contentious is the fact that the board is dominated by Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox Jews who send their children to private religious schools, or yeshivas.
Here is a description of the story from the TAL website:
We take it for granted that the majority calls the shots. But in one NY school district, that idea — majority rules — has led to an all-out war. School board disputes are pretty common, but not like this one. This involves multimillion-dollar land deals, lawyers threatening to beat up parents, felony criminal charges, and the highest levels of state government. Meanwhile, the students are caught in the middle.
Before the war in the East Ramapo, New York school district, there was a truce. Local school officials made a deal with their Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbors: we’ll leave you alone to teach your children in private yeshivas as you see fit as long as you allow our public school budget to pass. But the budget is funded by local property taxes, which everyone, including the local Hasidim, have to pay — even though their kids don’t attend the schools that they’re money is paying for. What followed was one of the most volatile local political battles we’ve ever encountered