Hey, poli-sci majors. Discuss: should public services—let’s say schools—be governed by the people who pay for them, or by the people who use them? That’s the question raised by a federal lawsuit filed yesterday by a group of parents in Lawrence, N.Y., one of Long Island’s famous Five Towns, where the school board is dominated by Orthodox Jews whose children don’t use public schools at all—they go to yeshivas—but who are nonetheless obligated to pay high property taxes to support the district.
The suit claims that the board’s recent decision to shut down the district’s newest elementary school in the face of falling enrollment—allegedly with the ulterior motive of cherry-picking the best facility to sell or lease to a yeshiva—amounts to the backdoor establishment of religion, in violation of the First Amendment. It’s the latest flare-up in long-running tensions between Orthodox residents, on one hand, and secular Jews and non-Jewish residents, on the other, who are steadily being crowded out of the community. (Previous iterations have included vicious budget fights and contract disputes.) Lawyers for the school board dismiss the accusations and insist the public will “not only be aware, but they will participate in the process.” Which, of course, means the entire public, not just those who use the public schools.