EDITORIAL: Where’s outrage over Lakewood?
When are the officials who are elected to represent all their constituents going to address the funding inequities and unequal treatment of the taxpayers and public schoolchildren in Lakewood? Where have state Sen. Bob Singer, Rep. Chris Smith, Gov. Chris Christie and U.S. Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez been on this issue?
Absolutely nowhere. Thanks to the money and power of the Orthodox community, they have done nothing to address problems that could be easily resolved if they had the courage to speak up and the integrity to represent all of their constituencies equally.
Over the past couple of weeks, readers have been exposed to two more disturbing stories about Lakewood schools. The district faces a $15 million budget deficit, the possible layoffs of more than 100 teachers and deep program cuts. And the director of the School for Children with Hidden Intelligence (SCHI), Rabbi Osher Eisemann, was indicted on theft and money laundering charges involving more than $630,000 in public school funds.
It’s a disgrace — two more in the steady drip, drip of outrages that characterize a school district that has had to squeeze resources and programs to accommodate the ever-expanding needs of the Orthodox community’s private schools.
The sad part is that there is virtually nothing in the works in Trenton to correct any of it. Without vocal, organized pressure from the nonOrthodox community inside Lakewood and in the communities surrounding it, there is no reason to believe things won’t get progressively worse.
Why should anyone who lives outside of Lakewood care? First, everyone should be outraged by the injustice that it is taking place in Lakewood’s predominantly minority public schools. Second, the population pressures in Lakewood could, over time, eventually spill over into neighboring towns — something public officials and growing numbers of residents in those town are becoming increasingly conscious of.
If Singer, Christie and other legislators with the ability to influence what goes on in Lakewood had an interest in righting the wrongs there, here are five things they could do that would help:
•The state school funding formula is a mess. But changes proposed by Christie’s “Fair Funding formula” would likely make matters worse. Those suggested by Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli would be an improvement, but would not fundamentally address the unique circumstances confronting Lakewood — specifically, the fact that the busing costs to transport 30,000 Orthodox children to private schools and the extraordinary $97,000 per-pupil cost to educate special education students at SCHI in Lakewood absorb about 40 percent of the school district’s $90 million budget.
No other towns in New Jersey have similar public school budget stresses attributable to the prevalence of private schools within their boundaries. Lakewood is a special circumstance. It requires an aid formula that takes the special circumstances into account.
•Offset the undue influence of the Orthodox community on the school board by requiring that a majority of its members have children in the public school system. Right now, the Orthodox members — all of whom send their children to private Orthodox schools — are in the majority, and decisions they make often are at odds with what is best for non-Orthodox public school students.
•Draft courtesy busing legislation that ends the practice in Lakewood of having separate bus runs to private schools for girls and boys, which dramatically increases the courtesy busing tab. Taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for segregated busing. The Legislature also should reconsider the cost benefit of any courtesy busing.
•Require that private schools be certified by the state in order to be eligible for state funding. Unless basic educational, facilities, health and safety standards are being met, the state should not be providing funding assistance.
•Establish specific criteria and spending caps for private special education schools such as SCHI, where the $97,000 per-student cost is far higher than similar private schools. What is the justification? The short answer: There is none. What SCHI says it needs to implement its program, SCHI gets, on the taxpayers’ dime. The indictment of the school’s director should provide extra incentive to make sure money is being spent wisely and for the stated purpose.
At the same time, the state must ensure that the students who are enrolled at SCHI are representative of the community as a whole. Historically, they have been almost exclusively Orthodox. The state needs to ensure that placements there by Lakewood’s child study teams are based entirely on need.
Some of the valid criticisms about the inequities in the school district have been wrongly directed toward state monitor Michael Azzara. There is only so much he can do. He is bound by existing rules and hamstrung by public officials who have shown no inclination to address the problems.
Editorials, letters to the editors and complaints at public meetings aren’t likely to change the trajectory in Lakewood. Putting direct pressure on lawmakers who can change the rules of the game and challenging in court some of the rules that allow the situation to persist offer the only hope for relief — and justice.
Write, email and phone Singer, Smith, Christie, Booker and Menendez, and demand action. Otherwise, expect more of the same — and worse.
Lakewood rabbi pleads not guilty to stealing public funds from special needs school
NEW BRUNSWICK — A Lakewood rabbi who runs a school for children with developmental disabilities pleaded not guilty Monday to charges of stealing public funds for personal use.
Osher Eisemann, 60, the founder and director of the School for Children with Hidden Intelligence in Lakewood, is accused of using a private fundraising nonprofit for the school to launder $630,000 in public tuition funds.
He was indicted last month on charges including theft, money laundering, corporate misconduct and misuses of government funds.
Eisemann, through his attorney, pleaded not guilty to all charges before Superior Court Judge Benjamin Bucca in Middlesex County.
Deputy Attorney General Anthony Robinson told Bucca the state has offered a plea deal that would require a prison sentence of five years in exchange for Eisemann admitting to a second-degree charge of theft by unlawful taking. As part of the plea deal, Eisemann would also pay restitution, Robinson said.
Eisemann, of Lakewood, faces up to 15 years in state prison on the charges.
An attorney representing Eisemann, Lee Vartan, declined to comment after the brief court hearing. However, Vartan maintained his client’s innocence in a previous statement given to NJ Advance Media.
“Rabbi Eisemann has never taken any SCHI funds for his personal use, and we strongly deny that there was any ill intent in the use of SCHI funds,” Vartan said in the statement. “We look forward to the complete exoneration of both SCHI and Rabbi Eisemann in this investigation.”
Schools, zoning, poverty rate pose questions about town powers
SCHI receives $1.8 million a month in public tuition from the Lakewood School District to teach students with special needs. Authorities said Eisemann took $430,000 of that money for a personal business venture, the clothing company TAZ Apparel, LLC.
Authorities said Eisemann also laundered an additional $200,000 of the funds in a scheme “intended to make it appear that he was repaying debts he owed to the school using personal funds.”
SCHI officials previously called the attorney general’s investigation “baseless” and said the school has a long history of providing a “superior level of services to meet the unique needs of severely-disabled, medically fragile, and socially-emotionally challenged children and youth adults.”
An attorney representing SCHI, Robert Rabinowitz, declined to comment after Monday’s arraignment.
Attorney General spokesman Peter Aseltine said the arraignment was held in Middlesex County because three of the districts that send children to SCHI are in the county: Highland Park, Edison and Monroe.
Eisemann is scheduled to be back in court on June 12.
Opinion: Lakewood’s Ultra-Orthodox Day Schools, ‘Tyranny of the Many’
“There’s nothing fraud hates more than a spotlight,” says Tom Gatti, head of the newly incorporated Senior Action Group (SAG) in Lakewood. The fraud he references is an utter lack of compliance with a newly legislated program,, that awards $17 million a year to a private consortium representing Lakewood’s burgeoning sector of 130 ultra-Orthodox Jewish day schools. The bill mandates an oversight committee. None exists. And no governmental entity — the Christie administration, Department of Education, local school board, or bill sponsor Senator Robert Singer (R-Ocean, Monmouth) — seems to care.
So here’s some illumination.
American democracy is complicated. Elections pivot on the preponderance of votes but minorities are afforded protections (codified in the Bill of Rights) in order to avoid, as John Stuart Mill had it, the “tyranny of the majority.” That very tyranny is an apt description of Lakewood’s public education landscape.
The South Jersey city is home to the second-largest population of ultra-Orthodox Jews in America (Brooklyn comes in first) and this population is growing rapidly. The total population of Lakewood is about 60,000 and is projected to rise to 225,000 by 2030, almost entirely fueled by the continued influx of ultra-Orthodox families. Last year the town’s planning and zoning departments approved 10 synagogues, nine yeshivas and 1,175 new residences. Many ultra-Orthodox constituents vote in a bloc, taking instruction from the Vaad, a local council of rabbis. The elected municipal government is dominated by white male Orthodox Jews, as is the school board.
And that school board is in a bind. The budget for Lakewood Public School District, which serves about 5,600 Latino and African-American children, has a $12 million deficit out of an annual operating budget of. The two biggest bites are transportation and special education. Until this year the district paid $18,199,974, mostly to bus 10,000 non-public students on gender-specific buses to 130 different yeshivas. (The other big bite — a mind-boggling $31,485,495 — is annual tuition to private special-education schools, mostly for ultra-Orthodox children who attend Jewish yeshivas that accept children with disabilities.)
According to a, senior educational consultant to Lakewood U.N.I.T.E (the group that represents Lakewood’s black students), most school districts allocate about 75 percent of annual budgets to student instruction. In Lakewood that allocation shrinks to 48 percent.
Hence, Senator Singer, Lakewood’s white knight, wrote a bill (or the, depending upon who you ask) that awards $17 million a year to pay busing costs for yeshiva students, with enough left over for “courtesy busing,” or transportation for students within state walking parameters. (The town council has “pledged” to pay for courtesy busing for public school students.) The $17 million, according to the bill, is paid directly to a “consortium.”
That consortium, now registered with the state Division of Revenue and Enterprise Services, is an LLC called the “Lakewood Student Transportation Authority (LSTA) and the chairman of the board is Rabbi Yisroel Schenkolewski, who is also the municipal police chaplain, commissioner of the Ocean County Board of Elections, founder of a girls’ yeshiva, and, according to the Jewish paper Haaretz, in an article entitledwielder of enormous power within the ultra-Orthodox community.
What about the accountability described in Senate Bill 2049 as an “oversight committee” consisting of five members, four appointed by the commissioner and one appointed by the state monitor or the school board?
According to SAG, Inc., at least three well-qualified residents dutifully filed resumes presenting credentials to all these entities and repeatedly contacted Senator Singer’s office. While there have been occasional responses, no action has been taken.
Certainly, there’s no point in prospective overseers contacting LSTA. According to Ocean City Politics, “The Lakewood Student Transportation Authority still has a nonfunctional public website and phone calls made to it are directed to an automated prompt. No public information has been released about the bids for busing by the agency, unlike local and county governments that publish bid documents on their websites.” (As of publication date, this nonfunctional status is unchanged.)
To date, $17 million of taxpayer money has been sent to an unaccountable consortium. To date, there is no oversight committee as stipulated in state law. To date, Lakewood public school students, 74 percent Latino, 20 percent black, and 86 percent economically disadvantaged, are summarily deprived of access to their constitutionally guaranteed thorough and efficient system of education.
Now, let’s be fair. Nonpublic school students are entitled to transportation within state parameters (although gender-specific, yeshiva-specific buses are a murky area). The district is underfunded because of New Jersey’s broken and unsustainable school funding-formula. But the state Legislature just handed over $17 millionto an unaccountable group of powerbrokers (regardless of who is responsible for implementation of the Senate bill) and called it square. This disdain for rectitude and law perpetuates the inequities — indeed, the tyranny — visited upon the minority children who attend Lakewood Public Schools. “Fraud” is too nice a word.
THE DESTRUCTION OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS BY THE ULTRA-ORTHODOX DRAINING FUNDING AND RESOURCES AND NOT PROVIDING A “SUBSTANTIALLY SIMILAR” EDUCATION WITH PUBLIC FUNDS – METHODOLOGY
We are seeing it happen often. The ultra-Orthodox take over a school board, drain resources, sell property. It is our own faults for not getting out to vote. The ultra-Orthodox hostile takeover of public education in the United States is a well-earned victory; they get out and vote in droves. Once they have a school district in their control, where the money used to pay for resources and education goes, well… that is not so well-earned.
In the case of East Ramapo Central School District, the people got out and voted and they spoke, loudly. A former principal was elected to the position on the school board. The ultra-Orthodox majority responded by sabotaging her victory. The requirement was that she be sworn in within 30 days of her appointment. So, what did the ultra-Orthodox members of the school board do? They kept postponing the swearing in ceremony. Until, lo-and-behold, the 30 days had come and gone. And then what? They appointed someone ultra-Orthodox to the post, someone no one knows, someone whose own kids attend private schools, someone clearly intent upon destroying the public education there. And, worst still he is someone who does not even live at the address listed – Fawn Hill Drive. Rather, the house is rented.
Yesterday an article came out in the Forward, reprinted here, about a recent Satmar decree that women are forbidden from attending universities and colleges. In other words, women are forbidden from getting educated. Moreover, any woman who chooses to get educated will be precluded from teaching at Satmar schools. One commenter to that post rightfully pointed out the impossibility of providing a “substantially similar” education if those teaching the classes are uneducated. That is a requirement in much of the United States in exchange for funding to private school using public taxpayer funds. Taxpayers, most of whom are not ultra-Orthodox, not even Jewish, are paying the taxes siphoned by school boards like the ultra-Orthodox minted East Ramapo Central School District school board, to be used to fund private yeshivas.
There is a lot wrong with this picture…. Unless, of course, you are ultra-Orthodox. Can we even wonder why there is so much hostility toward the utlra-Orthodox community in New York?
East Ramapo trustee accused of using phony address
Calls for the resignation of a newly-appointed member of the East Ramapo School Board are mounting amid accusations that the trustee does not live at his reported address.
Since Joe Chajmovicz’s appointment to a vacant seat in July, the school board has been criticized for naming someone not widely known to the public school community, and district parents have demanded he step down to allow for someone with ties to local education be named.
One of those parents, Romel Alvarez, said this past weekend, a group of about 15 people went to an address in Airmont, on Fawn Hill Drive, that Chajmovicz claims is his home, but discovered a family was renting it out.
“We went there to protest for him to resign his seat,” said Alvarez, who has been vocal at recent school board meetings on the matter. “We’re going to keep visiting there, each week, until he resigns. We’re not going away.”
A district spokesman insisted Chajmovicz has lived at the address in Airmont for the last seven years. Requests to the spokesman to be put in touch with Chajmovicz or to receive a statement for further comment were refused.
It’s unclear if Chajmovicz ever actually lived at the home on Fawn Hill Drive, though public records list it as his address starting in 2010, and a phone number was once listed under a Lisa Lefkovich at the address. Lisa Lefkovich is listed in other public records as Lisa Chajmovicz.
The home on Fawn Hill Drive is owned by a man named Moshe Solinsky as of March 2015, according to records.
A call to the number listed for the home was not returned. When a reporter visited the house Wednesday afternoon, no one answered the door. The landscaping was not well maintained, a trash can sat on the stoop, partially blocking the front door, and the aluminum siding was dirty.
Chajmovicz, 41, has two daughters, both of whom attend private schools, and works in the real estate business. He has also been involved in the development of affordable housing, according to another district spokesman, Darren Dopp.
After he was picked for the seat, the district touted Chajmovicz’s skills with finances and communications. However, the new trustee declined a request for an interview at the time.
Local education advocates, as well as the Spring Valley NAACP, are continuing to question why Jean Fields, a retired Ramapo High School principal and co-chair of the chapter’s education committee, was not selected to serve the balance of Engel’s term. They have asked Chajmovicz to forfeit his seat to allow for someone else, such as Fields, to be appointed.
To read the article in its entirety click here.
Lakewood builders putting their own selfish greed in front of the safety of thousands of Jewish families:
Contributor, July 3, 2016
Acting Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino announced that a former electrical code inspector for Lakewood was indicted today for allegedly accepting bribes from contractors in exchange for preferential treatment in the form of scheduling and conducting inspections more quickly or, in at least one instance, approving work that was not actually inspected.
The Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau obtained a state grand jury indictment today charging Mitchell B. Perkins, 67, of Stafford Township, N.J., with one count of bribery (2nd degree), two counts of official misconduct (2nd degree), two counts of acceptance or receipt of an unlawful benefit by a public servant for official behavior (2nd degree), and one count of pattern of official misconduct (2nd degree). The indictment is the result of an investigation by the New Jersey State Police Official Corruption Bureau South Unit and the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau.
Perkins formerly was employed as an electrical sub-code official/electrical inspector for Lakewood Township. He was arrested in this case on Sept. 25, 2015, and subsequently retired from that position.
The investigation began after the New Jersey State Police received information that Perkins allegedly had been accepting bribes from contractors. It is alleged that, between May 1, 2015 and Sept. 30, 2015, Perkins accepted four separate payments of $300 from an electrical contractor as consideration for preferential treatment. The contractor was working as a cooperating witness for the State Police at the time and requested that Perkins inspect his work more quickly. Perkins returned the first payment, but he allegedly kept the three later payments. It is alleged that, after the first payment, Perkins, who previously had inordinately delayed inspections of the contractor’s works sites, began to conduct timely inspections of his work sites. On one occasion, Perkins allegedly approved electrical work performed by the contractor without first inspecting the work. Afterwards, Perkins allegedly accepted the fourth $300 payment.
In connection with those four alleged payments, Perkins is charged with bribery, official misconduct, and acceptance or receipt of an unlawful benefit by a public servant for official behavior. He is charged with a second count of official misconduct and a second count of acceptance or receipt of an unlawful benefit by a public servant for official behavior based on multiple instances dating back to 1997 when he allegedly accepted other payments from contractors to influence the performance of his work as an electrical sub-code official and inspector for Lakewood Township. The charge of pattern of official misconduct relates to that conduct as well as the conduct involving the cooperating witness in 2015.
“Government inspectors are supposed to safeguard the public from improper work and potential fire hazards, not line their own pockets,” said Acting Attorney General Porrino. “When inspectors like Perkins allegedly take bribes, large or small, from contractors for preferential treatment, trust in government is undermined and public safety can be compromised.”
“Bribes, at any level of government, undermine public confidence in government,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We will continue to aggressively prosecute any officials who corruptly use their public positions for personal gain.”
“There are few assets more valuable than a person’s home, and homeowners have a right to expect that government inspectors will focus exclusively on ensuring that homes are safe, not on satisfying contractors who pay bribes,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “The arrest and indictment of Perkins will send a message that the state will not tolerate any illegal behavior that could endanger its citizens.”
Deputy Attorney General Pearl Minato presented the case to the state grand jury for the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. Acting Attorney General Porrino commended the detectives who conducted the investigation for the New Jersey State Police Official Corruption Bureau South Unit.
Each of the charges in the indictment carries a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison, including a mandatory five-year period of parole ineligibility, and a fine of up to $150,000.
The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The indictment was handed up to Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson in Mercer County, who assigned the case to Ocean County, where Perkins will be ordered to appear in court for arraignment at a later date.
To read the rest of the article click here.
LAKEWOOD — The township’s former electrical code inspector faces bribery, misconduct and other charges for allegedly taking cash from contractors in exchange for preferential treatment, Acting Attorney General Christopher Porrino said in a statement Wednesday.
Mitchell B. Perkins, 67, of Stafford, was indicted on charges that also included two counts of receipt of an unlawful benefit by a public servant and one count of pattern of official misconduct. The charges stem from an investigation by the State Police and the state Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau.
Perkins retired from his job as an electrical sub-code official and inspector for Lakewood after his arrest on Sept. 25, 2015. Authorities say that Perkins accepted four cash bribes of $300 each between May and September 2015 from a contractor who wanted his work inspected more quickly. The contractor, who was a cooperating witness for the state, received more timely inspections after the first bribe was paid, authorities said. Perkins returned the first bribe but kept the other three, authorities also said. Perkins also allegedly approved work without inspecting it in exchange for one of the bribes.
The state said Perkins has been accepting payments from contractors since 1997.
Perkins faces 5 to 10 years in prison on each charge as well as a $150,000 fine.
FBI RAIDS LAKEWOOD SCHOOL, CHEMED HEALTH AGENCY AND ANOTHER YESHIVA. ARE WE THINKING FRAUDULENT SCHOOL FUNDING? MEDICARE/MEDICAID FRAUD?
Lost Messiah June 29, 2016