JAMESTOWN – The Jamestown Public Schools district will continue participating in a lawsuit against that state that focuses on more state aid for students.
On Tuesday night the board voted 5 to 2 in favor of spending $35,000 on the Small Cities Schools Lawsuit (Maisto v. New York) for the rest of this calendar year, with board vice president Patrick Slagle along with board member Shelly Leathers voting against it.
The vote comes just a month after a state supreme court judge in Albany – Kimberly A. O’Connor – ruled against the eight small city districts involved in the lawsuit, claiming the state is providing a constitutionally mandated “fair and equitable education” for all students, despite arguments to the contrary by the eight plaintiffs.
Jamestown is one of those eight districts. The seven other small cities districts joining Jamestown are Utica, Poughkeepsie, Mount Vernon, Kingston, Newburgh, Port Jervis and Niagara Falls. Because districts can not directly sue the state, the eight districts are individual members of a group that is paying the legal fees to help the case move forward and each district pays a membership fee to that group.
The January’s State Supreme Court decision will likely be appealed and Tuesday night’s action was required if Jamestown were to continue on with the appeal process, ensuring it would benefit from any final positive outcome in the case.
The issue of providing proper funding to ensure a fair and equitable education for all students has already dragged on for the better half of two decades and Jamestown property tax players have already invested over $300,000 in the legal battle associated with the case.
“I just think the district has been involved for too long now. We’ve spent too much of the taxpayers’ money chasing after an uncertainty. I think the better approach would be to contact our legislators and look for legislative action, since ultimately any success in the lawsuit and what’s going to spur more money is legislative action. So I think that $35,000 for this year and possible more money for future years could be better spent within the district,” Slagle told WRFA following the meeting.
Prior to the vote Jamestown School Superintendent Bret Apthorpe gave a presentation on the history of lawsuit and the implications for continuing the case, admitting that while attorneys involved in the lawsuit are optimistic an appeal would be favorable for the district, it would only mean the case would continue to drag on because the state would then likely appeal that decision, forcing the matter to go before New York’s highest court – the Court of Appeals.
Following the meeting, Apthorpe said he didn’t envy the school board for having to make the decision.
“I don’t think its fair to put boards of education in this situation,” Apthorpe said. “This is about taking taxpayer moneys to advocate for constitutional rights of the poor against a government, again funded by taxpayers, opposed to that. So they’re being asked to take a stand using money from a poor school to continue a court case. It’s a true double-edged sword.”
According to Apthorpe, if the state legislature were to provide proper funding totals with the constitutional mandate in mind and by following the enacted foundation aid formula created ten years ago, Jamestown would be getting an additional $8 million in aid for the 2019-20 school year. As it stands, the governor is proposing $49.8 million in general purpose aid for Jamestown next year – up just $711,000 from the current year’s school budget. Apthorpe notes that increase doesn’t even keep up with the current rate of inflation based on the state consumer price index.