The Schenectady City School District plans a lawsuit to recover money sent to the failing International Charter School of Schenectady in pupil aid.
The state Education Department sent money to the Rotterdam-based school in January to make up for money the city district withheld because it challenged the accuracy of the school’s enrollment figures.
The charter school is under imminent threat of closure by the SUNY Board of Trustees due to underperformance. A final decision is expected on Tuesday from the State University Board of Trustees.
The Board of Education on Wednesday authorized Superintendent Eric Ely to proceed with a lawsuit, which would aim to recover some of the funds.
Last fall, Ely withheld some of the money owed to the charter school because he said charter school officials did not provide proper proof of residency of the students enrolled.
In December, charter school officials petitioned the state Education Department to obtain the $741,000 they claimed was owed. The state sided with the charter school in late January and sent it the money directly — bypassing the city school district. That money otherwise would have gone to the Schenectady district.
This decision did not sit well with Ely, who said previously that he believed a “fraud” is being perpetrated on the Schenectady taxpayers. Ely said Wednesday the Education Department did not follow the required process.
“They didn’t verify the addresses of the children; they didn’t even have the names and addresses of the children. All they had were the names,” he said.
The money sent to the school — which is roughly $9,500 per pupil per year — comes from both state aid and local taxpayer dollars.
Ely said the district still does not know the exact amount of money the charter school should have received. He said he knows it is less than $741,000 because the district sent the school a $73,000 payment. “We believe it’s probably less than half of that,” he said.
School Attorney Shari Greenleaf said the lawsuit would be filed in Supreme Court — in either Schenectady or Albany county.
Greenleaf said school officials believe the Education Department’s action was “arbitrary and capricious.”
PREPARING FOR INFLUX
Ely also informed the school board on Wednesday that he has formed two staff committees to deal with the potential closure of the charter school. One committee would continue the search to find space to accommodate the students. The second committee would explore how to help students readjust to a new setting.
He said in some people’s minds, the closing of a school is like a “death in the family.”
Ely plans to have counselors and social workers to help welcome these parents and students back into the district community. Charter school officials are preparing for Tuesday’s meeting of the SUNY Board of Trustees, where a final decision on the school’s future will be made. School spokesman Saleem Cheeks could not comment on any pending action by Schenectady.
“All of our efforts and focus is on the trustee meeting on the 11th,” he said.
Charter school Business Manager Lori Veshia said previously that the school stands by its enrollment numbers.
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