The state Education Department on Tuesday upheld a petition by an East Ramapo public school parent to nullify the current lease of the Hillcrest Elementary School building to a New Square yeshiva.
The petition, filed by Robert A. Forrest in September 2011, charged that the East Ramapo Board of Education failed to make a good-faith effort to rent out the school at market value.
In August of that year, the Hillcrest building was leased to Yeshiva Avir Yakov for a period of one year at $19,000 per month with an option to extend the lease each year for up to four years with a 2 percent annual increase.
In his decision Tuesday, Commissioner John King Jr. agreed with Forrest’s claim, finding no evidence “that the Board took reasonable steps to ensure that it was getting the best deal possible in this instance.”
Further, King ordered that “prior to disposing of school district property by either sale or lease, the Board take all necessary steps to ensure that it makes a reasonably informed decision and obtains the best deal possible.”
Reacting to the ruling in a statement Tuesday, Forrest specifically accused the school district’s lead attorney, Albert D’Agostino, of negotiating the deal allowing the New Square congregation to lease the building and its 12 acres at 60 percent below market rental value.
“The property was leased to Congregation Yeshiva Avir Yakov for approximately $252,000,” Forrest said. “In comparison, another school in East Ramapo was being leased by the district for approximately $760,000 per year. The Hillcrest lease equates to an economic loss … of $508,000 per year to the children of the East Ramapo Central School District.”
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