Jamestown Public Schools’ Superintendent is accusing New York State of dragging its feet in resolving a lawsuit over the state under funding poor school districts.
Dr. Kevin Whitaker said the state is trying to “smoke out” the remaining eight districts involved in the Small Cities lawsuit even though they know the funding formula is unjust to poor districts, “They believe that extending through legal means the timeline for which this process will take will cause districts, especially the poorer ones, to run out of money and drop out of the lawsuit. I think it’s despicable and I think they should own up to their fiscal mismanagement over the course of decades and take care of the kids who need it the most.”
The Jamestown School Board voted 5 to 2 on Tuesday to continue paying litigation fees in the amount of $20,000 in the Small Cities lawsuit, also known as Maisto v. New York. Shelly Leathers and Pat Slagle were the two no votes, citing concerns over spending more tax money on a case that doesn’t seem to have a defined end.
The case is currently in the remedy stage after the New York State Appellate Court rejected an appeal by then Governor Andrew Cuomo in August 2021 of the court’s decision. The unanimous decision by the Third Appellate Division in May 2021 overturned Cuomo’s position that education aid to the eight small city school districts, including Jamestown, was constitutionally sufficient.
Whitaker said the districts’ goals are to change state foundation aid formulas so it’s fair for all districts in the state and for the eight small city school districts to be reimbursed for the funds lost over several decades. He said the district should receive $30 to $40 million from the lawsuit that would go specifically toward academic intervention, “It would go to tutoring. It’s essentially money that we need to help catch kids catch up to their grade level peers. [Reporter “These are teachers? Different kind of programs?] Additional teachers, additional supports – It’s all of that. It’s the entire process of assisting kids throughout their learning to close the gaps that exist with poorer communities.”
Whitaker added the state is in arrears for over $100 million for the Jamestown Public Schools District, but he doubts the district will ever see that money. However, a change in formula would provide ongoing support to the district.
The Maisto plaintiffs started the case in 2008 because they believed their districts were not getting enough educational funding/resources to give their students, mainly poor and disadvantaged, what they needed to succeed and that this violated the state constitution.
On the mascot and nickname guidance that the State Education Department is supposed to provide to school districts, Whitaker said he heard the topic is on the agenda for the Regents’ December meeting next week. He said he wasn’t aware if it was just going to be discussed or if there would be any formal action taken on on the guidance.