On the day preceding the passage of budget resolutions in Albany, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos spoke at a breakfast in Lawrence sponsored by Agudath Israel of America. The reception, hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Yolly Edelstein in their home, served as a community wide thank you to Senator Skelos for his steadfast support of issues that are paramount in the community and that were part and parcel of the current budget negotiations.
The event was chaired by Rabbi Yehiel Kalish, Agudath Israel’s National Director for Government Affairs, who opened the session. Other speakers included Rabbi Binyomin Kamenetzky, founder of Yeshiva of South Shore, and a close friend of Senator Skelos; Rabbi Yonah Feinstein, Director of Special
Projects for Agudath Israel, who coordinated the event; Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel, who articulated the gratitude of the community for government leaders who recognize the vitalimportance of the yeshivos in New York State; and Yoily Edelstein, whothanked Agudath Israel which “works tirelessly on our behalf throughout the year advocating for our community’s needs.”
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky, dean of Yeshiva of South Shore addressed the area of Mandated Services / CAP (Comprehensive Attendance Policy) programs in New York State law whereby nonpublic schools are entitled to reimbursement for carrying out state mandates. Due to numerous deep cuts to the CAP program over the past few years, a considerable debt has accrued to the nonpublic schools. More importantly, the State Education Department applies a flawed, inaccurate formula which does not capture the actual costs that yeshivos incur to comply with thetCAP mandate whichentails multiple attendance taking throughout the day. Rabbi Kamenetzky asked Senator Skelos to consider how very important education is to our community and to expend every effort towards helping yeshivos and other nonpublic schools receive these funds which they have been counting on fortheir budgets.
Transportation for students with extended hours was also on the agenda. Rabbi Meir Weitman, dean of Torah Academy for Girls, and Simcha David, Esq.,a parent of students in Yeshiva Darchei Torah, explained the need for transportation services. While acknowledging that Senator Skelos made a huge difference to many families by allocating millions of dollars from his discretionary funds for buses for nonpublic schools, Mr. David implored him to make an even bigger difference going forward. He described how children as young as 10 are dismissed later than 5:00 p.m. when the New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE) transportation services will no longer provide transportation for them. Given the already high cost of tuition, many parents cannot undertake to pay the additional charge for private transportation forcing young children to walk home from school, sometimes through unsafe conditions. It also forces parents to drive carpool in midst of serving dinner and doing homework with the younger siblings.
The conversation then turned to students with special needs. Mr. Richard Altabe, Headmaster of Yeshivat Shaare Torah and vice president of CAHAL ,noted that New York is perhaps the best state in the country for services for Yeshiva students with special needs. He appealed to the senator to prevent the state from withdrawing vital services to special needs children. He illustrated the issue with poignant stories as he explained that while the changes being proposed – forcing parents to choose between receiving transportation to and from special needs programs or related services - appear innocuous at first glance, they have the potential to reverse decades of gains for these vulnerable children. He summarized the other issues of concern, including the reduction of time allowed to parents to file for an impartial hearing in order to request tuition reimbursement, summer
placement, and the requirement of mediation with no timeframe in which it must take place.
The last topic discussed was the difference of attitudes towards end of life issues between the Orthodox Jewish community and the culture at large. Rabbi Boruch Ber Bender, founder and executive director of Achiezer, spokeof the Palliative Care Information Act and the impact that this law, which does not take into account the Jewish value of preserving life, would have on our community. He related a moving story of a man in his 50’s who suffered complications due to a dental procedure. He spent 3 ½ months comatose, with the primary care facility attempting to transfer him to hospice. His wife enlisted Chayim Aruchim, Agudah’s Center for Culturally Sensitive End of Life Advocacy and Counseling and they came to her aid. After consultation with other health care professionals, the patient was transferred to another facility where he underwent a procedure and is on
track to be discharged to his own home next week. Rabbi Bender requested that the Senator make every effort to amend the law to include continuationof care options as well.
Senator Skelos was then introduced by Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz, Vice president for Community Services, Agudath Israel of America. He praised Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos for effectively advocating for the Jewish community during budget discussions and legislative sessions. He elaborated on how our community has benefitted from his friendship and advocacy.
The highlight of the event was when Senator Skelos took the podium. He thanked Agudath Israel for inviting him and reminded the assembled of the great strides that have been made in Albany, including providing necessary services without raising taxes, empowering the private sector to create
jobs, and eliminating the MTA tax in not only 80% of small business and public schools but ensuring that nonpublic schools should be exempt –permanently – as well. The elimination of the MTA tax saves yeshivos and other nonpublic schools millions of dollars that they can use to educate young people. He acknowledged that he will soon be presenting a one house budget, and responded favorably to the requests of the presenters by remarking that he is “going to make sure the recommendations you’ve made are
heard, listened to and effected positively in the budget.” He concluded,“It is an honor to represent you. There is no more respectful community of their elected officials than those sitting in this room. You have always come to me with what’s right, and I hope that I have returned that respect to you.”
The budget resolution was passed in Albany the following day providing 16 million in additional aid to non public schools and a commitment for reimbursing NYC schools costs to provide transportation to non public schools who transport students after 5pm.