Ira Katzenstein

Ira Katzenstein, Olean City School District Board of Education president, speaks at Tuesday night’s meeting. The board discussed financially supporting a lawsuit by small city school districts that contends New York state does not properly fund them.  

 

OLEAN — The Olean City School District Board of Education on Tuesday night discussed potentially throwing money behind a lawsuit that challenges how New York state funds its schools.

Students and parents in eight small city school districts contend that the state has not provided enough aid to their schools for “a sound basic education.” The state Supreme Court nearly one year ago dismissed the case, known as Maisto v. the State of New York, and groups representing the students and parents are now soliciting financial support for their appeal.

While the OCSD is not one of the districts in the suit, funding advocates say a victory for the eight districts could lead to the courts looking into whether other similar districts are also owed funding.

Board President Ira Katzenstein said the OCSD last supported the plaintiffs in 2012 with $1,000, and that the minimum contribution being asked for now is $1,500.

“The district stands to benefit should that case go in favor of the school districts,” he said.

Around the 2009-10 school year, the state froze Foundation Aid and attempted to balance the state budget by cutting school aid through the Gap Elimination Adjustment. The eight districts in the suit contend they should have received more than $1 billion in additional aid. OCSD officials have previously stated they lost out on more than $8 million in aid due to the GEA, which was eliminated in last year’s state budget.

The state invested $25.8 billion in education aid this year and U.S. Census data last year revealed that the state spends $20,610 per pupil, which was 87 percent above the national average.

OCSD Superintendent Rick Moore recently spoke with the New York State Association of Small City School Districts, one of the groups representing the plaintiffs and soliciting funds. The group told him OCSD would have received an additional $3 million to its $17.6 million in Foundation Aid this school year if it had been property funded.

“(The school districts in the lawsuit are) high needs, low wealth. If that doesn’t describe our district, I don’t know what does,” Moore said. “(The lawsuit) really just pushes the New York state government to take a stronger look and perhaps fund school districts in a better manner.”

Board member James Padlo advocated for financially supporting the lawsuit, adding the OCSD is run efficiently in light of a lack of aid, but doesn’t receive a “pat on the back” from the state for it.

“Our governor and politicians don’t have any kind of symbol for equality. They don’t even know we exist,” he said. “I would not mind throwing in something to support it because it will eventually benefit us.”

However, board member Janine Fodor said she would like more information on “whether or not giving $1,500 has any impact on their likelihood of success.”

“I’d just like to know what is the money going toward and how else are they soliciting funds. Fifteen hundred dollars is a drop in bucket in terms of costs for a litigation like this,” said Fodor, an attorney for Iroquois Group. “I don’t think we’re expressing a position on the outcome of the case to ask a few more questions about what happens with this fairly small contribution.”

Katzenstein asked Fodor to send him her questions and he will try to get answers from the firm representing the districts, Biggerstaff Law Firm LLP. The board agreed to discuss making a contribution at a later meeting once it has more information.

(Contact reporter Tom Dinki at tdinki@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @tomdinki)

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