JAMESTOWN – It appears Jamestown Public Schools will have to wait several more months until it and seven other school districts learn the outcome of a funding lawsuit against New York State.
Jamestown School Superintendent Tim Mains told WRFA on Thursday that the deliberations on the Small City Schools Lawsuit will take longer than initially thought, which means officials won’t know the outcome of the case until next year.
“The judge has said to the two sides, ‘I want you to provide briefings to what you consider to be the most important points out of the 5,000 pages of transcripts [that have been submitted.’ Once she gets the briefs from those two sides, then she will take several months to deliberate and deliver a decision. We’re told that that may not occur until sometime next spring,” Mains explained.
In January Mains went to Albany to testify in the case, which is also known as Maisto v. New York. In the lawsuit, eight small city school districts have argued that both parents and teachers have experienced the negative effects of inadequate state aid.
The eight small city districts — Jamestown, Kingston, Mount Vernon, Newburgh, Niagara Falls, Port Jervis, Poughkeepsie and Utica — have accused the state of underfunding them and preventing them from meeting their constitutional obligation to provide children with a “sound, basic education.” As a result, the plaintiffs believe they deserve a more equitable distribution of state aid to fund daily operations. They would like to see a restoration in state aid totaling $255 million annually, to help offset the state’s freezing of funding under the New York Foundation Aid Formula several years ago.
However, the Cuomo administration has argued that students’ poor performance in those districts was the result of teacher and leadership quality, not funding.
Mains said that compounding the problem for Jamestown is that the school district is ranked the sixth poorest in New York State, yet there are more than 200 districts that receive more state aid per pupil.
Judge Kimberly O’Connor is hearing the case. It was expected that she would be deliberating already, with a verdict expected this fall, but that was before she made her request. Both parties now have another 45 to 60 days to submit briefs, and then the case will go before judge O’Connor, who will likely take several months to come to a decision.
Mains said in addition to the Small Cities lawsuit, a separate lawsuit may offer a glimmer of hope for some earlier resolution. That case was brought forward last year by a coalition of parents’ and advocacy groups called New Yorkers for Students’ Educational Rights. That group argues in its suit that the state is underfunding all of the state’s 700 school districts and says it disobeyed a previous court order to increase funding. If a decision comes down for that case before the Small Cities lawsuit is decided, it could spur the state into providing more funding for districts.
Of course, there’s no guarantee the decision in either case wold be favorable for Jamestown and even if it were, the state always has the option to appeal, meaning the process could still be a long way from being resolved.
Mains made his comments during WRFA’s Community Matters Program. An encore of that interview will air this Sunday at noon. It can also be found at our website www.WRFALP.com starting Monday, Aug. 31.