A coalition of teachers, school officials and education advocates is suing Gov. David Paterson, trying to stop him from withholding New York state school aid.
The suit filed Wednesday in state court challenges Paterson’s authority to unilaterally delay 10 percent of upcoming aid payments to schools and local governments. Paterson says holding back some $750 million is necessary to prevent the state from running out of cash as it grapples with a $3.2 billion deficit.
“He’s talking about a delay that will turn into a cut,” said Alan Lubin, New York State United Teachers executive vice president. He said the schools have also felt the tough economic climate and lost almost 6,000 staff this year. Several districts have tapped into their financial reserves.
Paterson accused them of a “dereliction of ethical duty” in a fiscal crisis.
“They’re saying, ‘We’re not special interests, we’re extra special,’” Paterson said. He accused the teachers union of trying to extract all of its aid — 70 percent of which he says goes to salaries — then leave local governments, nonprofit social service groups and others with a much larger hit that will “wipe these other guys out.”
For New York’s 680 school districts, the withholding amounts to about 1.5 percent of their annual state aid, said Timothy Kremer, New York State School Boards Association executive director. Dr. L. Oliver Robinson, president of the State Council of School Superintendents, said Paterson also is delaying STAR payments meant to relieve property taxes.
The suit claims the governor is illegally withholding funds allocated by the Legislature and threatening program funding at the midpoint of the school year.
A court hearing is expected in January.
“This is a desperate attempt by special interests to put their needs above the needs of the state of New York,” Paterson said, saying the cuts are even and across the board. “Today’s group of plaintiffs, I’m adding them to the list of those who have stuck their heads in the sand.”
Paterson said that since 1995, state budgets have contained a provision that payments are based on a determination that the budget director can certify them. “That imbues the governor with the right to make sure the state does not run out of money.”
Paterson spokesman Morgan Hook said the Shenendehowa School District outside Albany, where Robinson is superintendent, has $3.8 million in cash reserves, and its state aid withholding Tuesday was $182,000. But Paterson has noted 5 percent of schools that don’t have enough reserves. His proposal weeks ago to exempt these poorest districts was rejected by the Legislature.
Associated Press writer Michael Gormley contributed to this report.
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