Destroying Public Schools
New York Times
September 16, 2006
At Odds Over Schools
By BRUCE LAMBERT
[This] school district has been changing, house by house, as Orthodox Jewish families have flocked here over the last two decades, gradually at first and then in growing numbers.
While not yet a majority, the Orthodox have nonetheless emerged as the dominant force in a clash of cultures. And the front line in this battle is Lawrence’s once highly regarded public school system.
In each of the last four years, Orthodox voters mobilized to defeat the school budget — one of the longest losing streaks on Long Island. Then in July, they took charge of the school board, though few of the Orthodox send their children to public schools. Out of seven seats, the new majority consists of four Orthodox members and one ally.
[M]any of this district’s Orthodox residents object to paying school taxes that average about $6,000 per home for a system they do not use. Their leaders also complain that more public money should be channeled to the Orthodox day schools, which by law are limited to tax-financed busing, books and special education services.
“We feel invaded,” said an Atlantic Beach delicatessen customer, a self-described non-Orthodox Jew and activist parent who declined to give her name. “We don’t mind them being here, but taking over and shutting down the school system is not the right thing.” (Atlantic Beach is part of the Lawrence school district.)
Experts who track expanding Orthodox neighborhoods around the nation say the conflict in Lawrence has far-reaching implications.
“Other communities are watching Lawrence very closely, for fear they may be next,” said Prof. William B. Helmreich, the director of the Center for Jewish Studies at Queens College. Orthodox adherents “are cohesive, they marshal forces and vote as a bloc,” he said. “It could happen anywhere.”
It has already happened in Rockland County, where Orthodox residents control the East Ramapo school board. Similar strains have arisen over the schools and other services in Lakewood, N.J., home to a large Orthodox population.
“It’s ominous,” said Steven Sanders, a former New York City assemblyman who was chairman of the State Assembly’s Education Committee. “This is not going to be an isolated situation. This is a worrisome trend. The common thread is not religion. The common thread is people who don’t feel invested in educating other people’s children. What do you do when a community is significantly comprised of individuals who don’t have a stake in public schools when they’re already spending for private schools? It’s a fracturing of the social compact.”
Destroying Public Schools