School districts ap­peal rul­ing in aid law­suit

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Wil­liam J. Kem­ble news@free­manon­line.com

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.

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