East Ramapo, Chappaqua school budgets pass on second vote

East Ramapo and Chappaqua voters passed re-jiggered budget plans Tuesday in the only two districts in the Lower Hudson Valley to see 2024-2025 budget plans rejected in May.

Chappaqua voters passed a $140.7 million budget, with a 1.81% tax levy increase, by 1,234-281, according to unofficial results. The district in May had attempted to win support for a $141.8 million spending plan that would have hiked the tax levy 2.99%, breaking the district's property-tax levy cap and requiring a 60% "supermajority" to vote yes. Instead, the budget plan got only 40% support.

In East Ramapo, the re-vote went through with 1,245 voting yes and 1,082 voting no, according to unofficial results accepted by the school board a little past midnight.

Residents from Ward 4 cast their ballots for the re-vote of the East Ramapo School District budget at Chestnut Ridge Middle School June 18, 2024.
Residents from Ward 4 cast their ballots for the re-vote of the East Ramapo School District budget at Chestnut Ridge Middle School June 18, 2024.

East Ramapo's original and revised budget plans set spending at $331 million, and tapped reserve funds to make ends meet.

May's rejected plan had sought a 1.99% tax levy hike. The school board then proposed a tax levy increase of 1% in June, tapping more reserves to make up the difference.

A voter casts her ballot in the Chappaqua school budget re-vote at Horace Greeley High School June 18, 2024.
A voter casts her ballot in the Chappaqua school budget re-vote at Horace Greeley High School June 18, 2024.

Even a 1% tax levy increase was a big ask in East Ramapo, where voters have over the past decade rejected any budget that builds in a tax levy increase.

East Ramapo: Low resources, high tensions

Repeated rejections of budget plans have left East Ramapo's funding out of balance with growing public- and private-school populations' needs. Community tensions continue to grow, with hundreds of public-school families attending recent school board meetings to demand an investment in their kids' education.

Residents from Ward 4 cast their ballots for the re-vote of the East Ramapo School District budget at Chestnut Ridge Middle School June 18, 2024.
Residents from Ward 4 cast their ballots for the re-vote of the East Ramapo School District budget at Chestnut Ridge Middle School June 18, 2024.

Some 96% of about 10,500 public-school students in East Ramapo are children of color. More than half are English language learners. About 14.8% of East Ramapo's public school students are considered homeless, a larger percentage than in New York City schools or any other district in the Lower Hudson Valley.

Fiscal oversight: NY Regents call on Legislature to return and approve East Ramapo control board

Another 30,000-plus kids who live within district boundaries attend private schools, mostly yeshivas that serve the Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish community.

The majority of school board members are men who are seen in the public school community as favoring yeshiva students' needs. The cost, critics say, is a public-education system starved of resources and stripped of education quality.

Even with Tuesday's approval, district and state officials have repeatedly warned that the district faces a "fiscal cliff" and its dwindling credit rating has hampered needed borrowing. Costs are increasing, especially for the district's complex transportation system that is responsible for getting kids to 14 public schools and hundreds of private schools.

Public-school test scores are among the lowest in the state.

The district will be without a superintendent by month's end after the school board failed to renew Superintendent Clarence Ellis' contract.

Chappaqua: Respect tax cap

Chappaqua's revised budget proposal axed plans to add three school resource officers.

District officials identified the planned addition of three SROs, which would have doubled the number of specially trained police officers in Chappaqua schools, as one reason their initial budget plan was rejected by voters.

Chappaqua: Revised school budget plan stays within cap, walks back increase in police

Some board members said they believed there was earlier support for more SROs in the schools, citing feedback the district had received over the last 18 months. But after the vote, there was pushback against adding SROs.

A sign for the Chappaqua school budget re-vote seen outside Horace Greeley High School June 18, 2024.
A sign for the Chappaqua school budget re-vote seen outside Horace Greeley High School June 18, 2024.

"Some people wanted SROs but didn't want to go over the tax cap to get them. Some people just didn't want to go over the tax cap at all for any reason. And some people just didn't want SROs at all," board member Alissa Dorfman said during a recent school board meeting.

One more election to go

There is still one more school election to be held in the Lower Hudson Valley.

The Rye Neck school district last month saw a tie between two candidates running for a second open seat on the school board. Halli Gatenio and Martin O’Reilly each got 429 votes.

So the school board has scheduled a runoff election for July 1. Voting will take place from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the the middle school/high school community room.

"The Board appreciates our community’s understanding as we manage the unprecedented circumstances dictated by the tie vote; we also appreciate the patience of the two candidates," the board said in a statement.

Staff writer Diana Dombrowski contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: East Ramapo and Chappaqua schools budget vote results

Advertisement