Back in the 1990s a conflict arose here in Chicago between a public school and Hanna Sacks Beis Yaakov (HSBY). During the 1980s after the baby boom was over, public school attendance was down. A lot of public school buildings were emptied as schools combined. One such building (just a half block from my house) was the Green School building.
Hanna Sacks had grown to a point where it needed a building. The Green School was available and leased to them. But in the nineties the public school population had grown to a point where it needed to take some of those buildings back. Specifically the nearby Dewitt Clinton Elementary School had requested the Green School building for its overflow.
Hanna Sacks had no place to go. Having been in that building for quite some time and investing money in it, they fought for the building. I was on the Hanna Sacks Board of Directors at the time. State Senator Howard Karol was sympathetic to our cause and went to bat for us. He contacted Mayor Richard J. Daley who also sympathized with us. But Clinton’s Local School Council was adamant. They felt the school belonged to them. It was needed now and it should go back on line.
Senator Karol suggested to the Hanna Sacks board that we run 2 candidates for that council in the next election. Their by-laws allowed 2 of its members to be non parents that would represent the community’s interests. As a member of Hanna Sacks board and a resident of the area, I was asked to run along with another board member who lived there too. Anyone who lived in the Clinton school district could vote. The religious community leaders asked the Orthodox Jews of this heavily Orthodox neighborhood to vote for us. We won. Suddenly my fellow Hanna Sacks board member and I were members of the DeWitt Clinton Local School Council.
We had made our point with that board. Keeping the Green School building in Hanna Sacks hands was what the voters in that district wanted.
What about the legitimate claims by the Clinton School Council members that it needed the building? That’s where Mayor Daley came in. He had convinced the public building commission to build a state of the art addition to the school that more than accommodated the overflow. This addition was a far better alternative than dividing their students between two buildings that were not really walking distance from each other. Their overcrowding problems were solved and we were able to buy that building from the Chicago Board of Education.
That was a happy ending. But in the interim there was some very acrimonious debate between the two religious members of that council and some of the more strident advocates of getting the Green school back. Even after the new building was promised, there were Clinton council members that were opposed to us. They preferred getting the older building back – saying that it was a waste of money to build an auxiliary to a school when a building was already in existence. The fact that an entire school would be out in the streets didn’t concern them.
Since then I have wondered if our participation were necessary. Were we wrong to run for the Local School Council? Could we have gotten the building without that? Were they right for fighting us? Was the acrimony that resulted worth getting that building? All I can say is that it has been over 2 decades since this happened and all is well.
EAST RAMAPO SCHOOL BOARD
I haven’t been following the controversy in Monsey all that closely. But I can’t help noticing some similarities. Monsey, New York, is part of the East Ramapo school district. And as is well known Monsey is heavily populated by Orthodox Jews. Mostly Chasidim but quite a few non Chasidim and even some Modern Orthodox. What has happened is that the East Ramapo school board now consists mostly (if not exclusively) of Orthodox Jews.
About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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