East Ramapo School District Grapples with Looming Deficit Amid Transportation Cost Concerns

In the face of a looming financial shortfall, East Ramapo’s school district finds itself at a critical juncture as state-appointed monitors have posed a challenging question to its school board trustees: the possibility of slashing transportation expenses that increasingly strain the budget. During a recent board meeting, the discussion focused on the feasibility of reducing universal busing services, a move that sparked immediate concern among trustees.

Trustee Yitzchok Gruber, representing Monsey’s Ward 6, emphatically cautioned against any cuts to transportation. He highlighted the potential backlash from the community, indicating that such a move could jeopardize public support for future school district budgets.

The financial challenges confronting the East Ramapo school district are daunting, with a projected deficit nearing $20 million for the 2024-2025 budget year. This predicament persists despite proposals to increase the tax levy by nearly 5.4%, an approach fraught with its own risks. The district’s operating budget for the upcoming year is estimated at over $336 million, serving a diverse student population of approximately 45,000, the majority of whom attend private yeshivas within the district.

Transportation costs, which are expected to exceed $76 million, represent a significant portion of the district’s expenditures, far outpacing the average in other districts. This has prompted discussions about the sustainability of such spending, especially in light of the district’s financial constraints and the growing needs of its student populations.

Shelley Jallow, a state-appointed education monitor, emphasized the importance of prioritizing spending, noting that while many expenses are fixed, transportation costs offer a potential area for adjustment. The situation is further complicated by the district’s history of budgetary challenges, including repeated failures to pass budget plans and minimal tax levy increases when budgets do pass.

Superintendent Clarence Ellis highlighted the urgency of the situation, pointing out the diminishing federal COVID funding and unlikely increases in state foundation aid. Ellis’s comments reflect a call to action for the East Ramapo community to take greater responsibility for its financial future, particularly as the district navigates the complexities of serving a diverse and growing student body amid tightening fiscal constraints.

As the East Ramapo school district faces these pressing financial issues, the debate over transportation costs represents a broader challenge of balancing essential services with fiscal responsibility, all while striving to maintain community support and ensure the well-being of its students.

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