Say Kaddish for Lakewood's Upswing in Public/Private Education Equity

(Enlarged version here.)

Things were looking up at Lakewood Public Schools, the troubled, dysfunctional district that is an anomaly among NJ’s local school systems. While the in-district enrollment is about 5,000 mostly Hispanic poor kids, the district also provides transportation for 25,000 Orthodox Jewish children who attend one of the 97 yeshivas within Lakewood at a price tag of $21 million per year. That’s about 1/5 of the district’s total budget, and is a symbol of the disparity in resources allotted between Hispanic kids and Jewish ones. (See background here.)

The district has been investigated by the ACLU, the NJ DOE, and, more recently, Education Law Center.

Parents of in-district kids formed a group called Lakewood Unite, an advocacy group with a mission “to make the public aware of the many issues in the Lakewood Public School District” and “to address the inequities in the Lakewood School District Special Education Program.” They started video-taping school board meetings and also secured a meeting with Ed. Comm. Chris Cerf.

Three years ago voters ousted some long-time school board members who were under the thumb of both the local Rabbinate and the lawyer who pretty much ran the district. (For years he not only collected attorney fees but also collected salary and benefits under the unusual title of “Out-of-District Special Education Supervisor. This title was in deference to the lawyer’s able representation of Jewish families who had children with special needs and wanted their kids to attend, at district expense, a private special needs school, The School for Children with Hidden Intelligence, which operates under a pretense of secularity but is actually a Jewish school. Tuition tops $100,000 per student per year. (Some background here.)

Enter the new board president, Carl Fink, who gathered enough support among board members to fire the lawyer and implement cost-saving strategies to lower the transportation tab. (An unexpected influx of new Jewish families has put the district budget this year $4 million in the hole, but that’s another story.)

Time for school board elections. At the top you can see the ad that ran throughout Lakewood, although mostly in the online paper Lakewood Scoop, which serves the Orthodox Community. It reads,
The Lakewood Vaad [Council of Rabbis] and the Igud Hamosdos [consortium of yeshivas] with the backing of the Roshei HaYeshiva shlita [chief Yeshiva leader] ask you to please take a few moments and vote l’tovas haTzibbur [for the good of the local religious community]. Please vote for all the names in column A AND the last 3 names in column F.

Many flyers, posters and phone calls have left some wondering who to vote for. False facts and figures are being spread to confuse you more. One fact is true – “it’s not a laughing matter”. Our Kehilla [Jewish community]  is paying more taxes, our Mosdos [yeshivas] are not getting their services and supplies and our children are the biggest losers – being robbed a proper education.

Contrary to what leaflets around town are proclaiming, none of the self-contained classes, Yesodai Hachinuch or Imrei Bina [new Lakewood yeshivas that cater to Jewish children with special needs] were started with the help of the current Board of Education leadership.
Because of artificially holding down taxes, the Kehilla lost millions in State Aid which would have directly benefited our children, and when it caught up to them taxes were raised this year by $4,000,000.00 and they still have a $4,000,000.00 shortfall.

Bussing, as we all know is terrible, with the board voting repeatedly to lengthen the routes. Little children are on busses for an hour and a half, and it will only get worse without a change on the Board.

Our Kehilla is blamed at every board meeting and in the press, for every financial problem they face. The leadership style is oppressive, please check with members of our Kehilla that work for the Board of Education.

For these reasons, the Igud Hamosdos, has met with candidates Zlatkin, Janklowicz and Rosenblatt and ask our entire Kehilla to vote for them today, before it’s too late!
Please vote for the bottom 3 names in column F and all the names in column A.

Final tally of votes: Zlatkin, Janklowiz, and Rosenblatt. 

According to the Asbury Park Press, Fink was "disappointed," adding, “everything we said we were going to do for the public school children, we did. We brought back after school programs and got the parents involved in the schools. I just would hate to see the direction of that progress changed.” Pastor Glenn Wilson, the leader of Lakewood United, commented, “We worked so hard to get to where we are now, and we don’t want to go back.”

One other note: a separate Asbury Park Press article reports that Janklowicz, one of winning yeshiva-endorsed candidates,  “had not registered to vote in Lakewood until the day that his application to run was due at the county board of elections. On that same day, “I switched from being a registered voter in New York to registered in Lakewood,” he said, explaining why he was an unknown before the filing date.