This American Life

Built around the innovative vision of Ira Glass, this program documents and describes contemporary America. Using radio monologues, mini-documentaries, “found tape,” and unusual music, it is radio storytelling at its best.

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Friday, September 12, 2014 Permalink

This American Life: A Not-So-Simple Majority

Adrianne Mathiowetz
 

Adrianne Mathiowetz

We take it for granted that the majority calls the shots. But in one NY school district, that idea — majority rules — has led to an all-out war. School board disputes are pretty common, but not like this one. This involves multimillion-dollar land deals, lawyers threatening to beat up parents, felony criminal charges, and the highest levels of state government. Meanwhile, the students are caught in the middle.

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PROLOGUE: Before the war in the East Ramapo, New York school district, there was a truce. Local school officials made a deal with their Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbors: we'll leave you alone to teach your children in private yeshivas as you see fit as long as you allow our public school budget to pass. But the budget is funded by local property taxes, which everyone, including the local Hasidim, have to pay — even though their kids don't attend the schools that their money is paying for. What followed was one of the most volatile local political battles we've ever encountered. (4 1/2 minutes)activism • education • neighbors/neighborhoods •religion

ACT 1 A Not So Simple Majority, Part 1. Producer Ben Calhoun talks about how the truce in East Ramapo fell apart, and plumbs the depths of the neighbor-vs-neighbor political war that emerged. Also, we learn that it can, in fact, be a massive deal when you change lawyers — at least when you're a school board.
 
ACT 2 A Not So Simple Majority, Part 2. : Ben Calhoun's story on the East Ramapo school district feud continues. We hear from a former member of the board. And a lawyer working for the school board screams the worst possible swear words we can think of at parents on the public school side. (Don't worry. We bleeped them for broadcast.)