It's Time For a State Takeover in Lakewood and Here's Why

Anyone who has been following the Lakewood School Board’s antics over the last decade can only sigh at the most recent news: the founder of  a Jewish special education yeshiva  that masquerades as a nonsectarian special education school was recently indicted for stealing public funds and laundering them in a scheme to enrich himself and a fundraising arm of the school.

The school is called SCHI, or School for Children with HIdden Intelligence. (Ignore the faces of color you see on the site; that's part of the charade.) The founder and current director is Rabbi Osher Eisemann. According to the Asbury Park Press, he has been charged with:
Theft by unlawful taking; misapplication of government property; misconduct by a corporate official; and money laundering — all second-degree offenses that carry up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000, state Attorney General Christopher Porrino said in a statement.
Eisemann’s method was simple: he overcharged Lakewood Public Schools by about a million dollars by paying for uncertified teachers, overpaying administrators, and proffering receipts for items that don’t seem to exist (ex: an expensive generator for SCHI’s summer camp that no one could find). Then he gave the money to the school’ s fundraising foundation, the non-profit Services for Hidden Intelligence, LLC, and used the money for purchases unrelated to SCHI.

This shande far di kinde (Yiddish for “scandal for the children”) barely  qualifies as the tip of the um, iceberg regarding the school’s illicit behavior.

Lakewood is complicated: the public district’s 5,000 students are Latino, Black, and largely poor.  Student outcomes are grim. This is largely due to the lack of funds available to public school students because the district spends over $18 million of its $128 million operating budget to bus 25,000  kids to over 100 Jewish day schools (the transportation is managed by an unaccountable consortium) and another $22 million to SCHI for providing what is supposed to be a secular education to 200 Jewish special needs children. (Contrary to statements by the omnipresent legal eagle Michael Inzelbuch, “most if not all of [SCHI’s students] are Orthodox.”) That leaves only $13,236 per pupil for public school non-Jewish students, well below what N.J. considers “adequacy.”

In a letter last month to the community, Lakewood Superintendent Laura Winters wrote,
It is with great sadness that I must inform you that the Lakewood School District is unable to provide its students with a “thorough and efficient” education required by the New Jersey State Constitution. The level of education that will be offered to the students of the Lakewood School District in the 2017-2018 school year, is in my professional opinion, tragically inadequate and inferior compared to the education offered to those students in wealthier towns in Ocean County and across the state.
SCHI's “palatial” grounds were raided by the FBI last June for exploiting the federal E-rate program. Last April Lakewood U.N.I.T.E., which represents Black students, filed a civil rights complaint against the school district for "disparate treatment of minority students" in special-education placements.

Annual tuition at SCHI is listed as $97,000 per student, but usually approaches about $125,000 to cover extra services.

But the school board is controlled by Orthodox Jews and so is the town. The State DOE sent in a fiscal monitor, MIchael Azzara, several years ago and he regularly overrules the Board. But there are limits on what he can do.

This disparate treatment is old news. SCHI’s duplicity is old news. Lakewood School Board’s disregard for Black and Latino students is old news. It’s time for something new. How about a state takeover?

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