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Cash-Strapped Rockland County School District Close To Eliminating Kindergarten

SPRING VALLEY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- A school budget crisis in one Rockland County community has officials considering the unbelievable.

The money is so tight, the East Ramapo School District could be the first in New York State to get rid of kindergarten, CBS 2's Lou Young reported.

The little ones Young saw on Monday at the Early Education Center at Kakiat Elementary School had no idea they could be the last students to attend kindergarten in East Ramapo for some time. They were oblivious to everything, except the adventure of learning.

Kindergartener Natalie Argueta couldn't wait to show Young just how well she can read and write, and at such a young age, too.

It's not about finger-painting anymore,

However, this Rockland County district has kindergarten on the chopping block because its budget was rejected by voters, an apparent push-back from a large population of ultra-Orthodox Jewish residents who school their children elsewhere and feel overtaxed.

"People have had enough. The taxes in East Ramapo and Rockland in general are some of the highest in the United States. People have their children in private schools. They're willing to support the public schools within reason if everybody carries their burden," anti-tax activist Kalman Weber said.

There are about 350 full-time kindergarteners in East Ramapo. The folks at the school Young visited on Monday were already facing the elimination of teachers' assistants and a doubling of class sizes because of budget problems. Now this. Some called it a disaster.

"This is essential and if they have to cut it there's going to be negative consequences," teacher Patricia Ranney said.

Administrators are working the numbers, but when push comes to shove, it's the programs not required by the state that have to go. You might find it surprising that kindergarten is not required.

"I'm scared for the future of our children," kindergarten director Jacqueline Polanco said, adding when asked what would happen to the fiber of education if indeed the program is shelved, "all this is gone. All this is gone.

A revised budget could be ready for another vote on June 19.

It's estimated that in the East Ramapo district two-thirds of all students attend private schools. Critics suggest the state needs to re-work the funding formula to make it less dependent on property taxes.

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