School districts appeal ruling in aid lawsuit
Lawyers representing students from eight school districts, including Kingston, have appealed a September ruling against them in a lawsuit over state aid for public education.
Attorney Robert Biggerstaff said Thursday that the Sept. 19 ruling by state Supreme Court Justice Kimberly O’Connor in Maisto et
al v State of New York failed to account for previous court rulings about the distribution of aid and for calculations used when state lawmakers were seeking to balance the state budget through the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which curtailed school funding to shore up New York’s finances after the economic crisis of 2008.
“In 2010-11, the legislature took $2.5 billion away from education,” Biggerstaff said.
The Association of Small City School Districts has said the eight districts in the lawsuit were shorted a combined $1.1 billion during and eight-year period beginning in 2007 because of both the Gap Elimination Adjustment and a freeze in “foundation aid,” which benefits students who are poor or need English-language services.
The lawsuit claimed the losses in the Mid-Hudson region were $80.2 million in the Kingston school district; $79.9 million in Poughkeepsie; $238.9 million in Newburgh and $67.4 million in Port Jervis.
The other small-city school districts in the suit were Mount Vernon, Utica, Niagara Falls and Jamestown.
The lawsuit accused the state of reneging on funding promises made after a Court of Appeals ruling in 2007 required the state to increase funding for New York City schools. After that ruling, the state reformed its statewide funding formula, but it hasn’t fully funded the new system while facing budget shortfalls.
O’Connor wrote in her 16-page decision wrote that “political branches” had “responded” to needs in creating the funding formula and there was no apparent miscalculations.
“The state has continued to address the issues raised by school districts across the state in development of the state budget every year, as well as through the implementation of non-fiscal reforms that provide assistance to school districts,” the judge wrote. “Unfortunately, no funding mechanism will ever be perfect, and it is a laudable goal, but an impossible dream, to reach a 100 percent success rate for students in all measurable areas.”
O’Connor’s ruling said the state could adjust funding levels for school districts based on fluctuations in its fiscal condition and still deliver on its obligation to ensure students have access to an adequate education.
According to the Association of Small City School Districts, the districts that went to court had to cut 1,443 teachers and staff positions post-2007, accounting for as much as 30 percent of overall staff employment.
The Kingston school district had to cut 158 jobs, according to the association.
The appeal of O’Connor’s ruling was filed with the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court, Third Judicial Department, in Albany.