Two East Ramapo school board members who unexpectedly resigned Tuesday said they did so because it had become “exceedingly difficult” to work in the district due to a lack of information from the superintendent and continuous intimidation from fellow board members.
Stephen Price and Suzanne Young-Mercer submitted their resignation letters to District Clerk Cathy Russell on Monday. The resignations were announced at Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting, which Young-Mercer and Price did not attend.
In an interview with The Journal News on Wednesday, Young-Mercer said she and Price were “spinning their wheels” and saw no reason to remain on the board. She said she had been thinking about stepping down since last fall but she and Price made the decision to resign together only in the past few weeks.
Young-Mercer said doing her job as an elected official had become “exceedingly difficult ... due to the lack of trust I have in the information being provided to me.” She also cited “the persistent level of intimidation” she felt when she spoke out or raised concerns, including verbal abuse by fellow trustees.
“This has become an intolerable situation and one that I can no longer abide,” wrote Young-Mercer, who was elected to her second three-year term in 2010.
Price, who has served as trustee for 20 years, wrote there was a “continuing pattern of harassment and intimidation” that made it nearly impossible for him to carry out his duties.
In addition to being denied access to district information, he wrote he was “wrongfully accused of religious discrimination” and threatened with legal actions.
Price also wrote he had made numerous requests to Klein for financial and cash flow data and other budget information but that his requests were “ignored and the scant information that I did receive was generally incomplete or inaccurate.”
“Consequently, without any reliable information, I felt that I had to abstain from voting on many financial and budget decisions that came before the board,” Price wrote. “For the same reasons, I do not feel that I will be able to participate in upcoming 2013-2014 budget discussions in any meaningful way.”
Young-Mercer said in recent weeks she became aware of decisions that were made by Klein without her knowledge. She said she was “floored” when she recently learned that the district owed the Board of Cooperative Educational Services some $5 million. A partial payment was made this month.
“I feel that these decisions jeopardized the educational progression of East Ramapo students as well and the students of neighboring Rockland County school districts,” she wrote. “Consequently, I have concern that there may be other important decisions that are being made without my knowledge or input.”
Young-Mercer said the final insult for her was Klein’s letter last week to state education officials, in which he both asked for support but also criticized the tenor of communications by the state regarding the district’s fiscal crisis.
“Steve and I thought the tone of that letter was accusatory and combative,” she said. “It was not conciliatory on our part.”
Upon accepting the resignations Tuesday, board President Daniel Schwartz called the departures of Price and Young-Mercer “everybody’s loss.”
Klein and Schwartz did not respond to messages left Wednesday. Price also could not be reached for comment.
Young-Mercer and Price were the only trustees of the nine-member board who are neither Orthodox Jewish nor Hasidic. The board’s makeup has been a point of growing contention in the past few years as district critics whose children attend East Ramapo’s public schools have fought unsuccessfully to obtain seats on the board and, they say, regain representation for public-school students.
The seven-member majority, who send their children to private schools, have said they represent the needs of all students, in private and public schools.
A group of parents and community members has filed a class-action lawsuit against board members — excluding Price and Young-Mercer — and school administrators, claiming they have abused public money and directed it toward private Jewish schools.
Russell, the district clerk, said Wednesday that the board has several options to fill the seats. It can authorize a special election to be held within 90 days, or appoint someone to fill the seats until the next election.
If the board does nothing within the 90-day period, the BOCES superintendent may fill the vacancies.
Russell said that if the seats were filled by appointment, the new board members would serve only until the next election.
If the seats were filled by election, the new members serve until the term of the seat expires, which in this case would be June 30, meaning they would have to run for election again to retain the seats.