The Schenectady City School District may get some indication today of what is happening with its federal civil rights complaint against the state.
District Superintendent Laurence Spring told the Board of Education on Wednesday he was asked to come to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for a meeting at 9:30 a.m. Thursday. Middletown schools Superintendent Kenneth Eastwood, who also signed the complaint, also was invited to the New York City meeting.
But the purpose of the meeting wasn’t clearly explained.
“They were a little bit cryptic,” Spring said.
Officials from the Office for Civil Rights also offered a conference call if it was too difficult for Spring and Eastwood to get to New York City for an early morning meeting, he added.
“I said, ‘Oh no, we’ll be there,’ ” he said.
So he’ll be up before dawn to get there on time.
He’s cautiously optimistic.
“We’re thinking it’s a good sign,” he said.
He noted that Schenectady and Middletown also recently received big increases in federal aid. Schenectady received $1 million more in Title I aid, a 32 percent increase over last year. Middletown’s aid jumped 25 percent.
Title I aid goes to districts where a large percentage of children live in poverty. It is controlled by the U.S. Department of Education, and Spring said the increase could indicate the department agreed with Schenectady’s complaint, which alleges the state’s school funding system has disproportionately sent money to wealthier, whiter districts that are better represented in the state Legislature.
The state was taken to court on the issue of funding and agreed to an aid formula that took into account issues such as residents’ ability to pay for children’s education and factors that could make it more difficult to educate children, such as poverty. However, the nationwide recession hit the next year, and the state has never fully funded districts according to that formula.
The situation led to wild differences in aid, with some districts receiving all the aid called for in the formula, or even more, while Schenectady receives about 55 percent of its aid. If the district were fully funded, it would receive an additional $62 million a year.
Spring has pushed for Schenectady to receive the median percentage of formula-driven aid given to school districts statewide, about 82 percent. He argued this year that even an 8 percent increase in aid over last year would be a “show of good faith” and criticized the Legislature when it increased Schenectady’s aid only 5 percent. Some other districts received larger increases.
In other developments, the district is losing two well-known officials:
• Pedro Roman, principal at Lincoln Elementary School, has taken another job and will be leaving July 24. Lincoln is on the state’s “failing schools” list, and Roman had been tasked with overseeing a great variety of changes intended to improve student achievement.
• Kate Abbott, director of instructional support, has also taken another job. Her last day is July 14.
Both told the school district they were leaving to take jobs closer to their families, Spring said.
“We’ll miss them both. They did great work,” he said.