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What you need to know for 08/18/2017

Schenectady school aid decision expected next week

Schenectady school aid decision expected next week

In the next week, the Schenectady City School District should learn whether it will receive $3.8 mil

In the next week, the Schenectady City School District should learn whether it will receive $3.8 million in withheld state aid.

The Education Department is finally reviewing the school district’s request, which was filed a year ago.

Since that time, school officials have heard conflicting information on whether they would get the aid, which was withheld after the Education Department discovered that the school district had made a minor error in an advertisement seeking transportation bids a decade ago.

Former interim Superintendent John Yagielski and new Superintendent Laurence Spring have both pursued the aid. Neither of them got anywhere.

Then in January, Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, began pressuring the Education Department. Farley wrote two letters asking Commissioner John King to release the aid.

In the first, he wrote that he helped put language in the 2012 state budget that allowed the Education Department to forgive the error and return the money. Two previous attempts by Farley to return the aid were vetoed by the governor.

“These types of bills had always been approved in the past, and the Education Department itself had recommended that Schenectady seek corrective legislation,” Farley wrote. “I urge you to promptly approve the district’s request for the payment of the denied aid.”

He added that he felt withholding $3.8 million for a small error was “excessive.”

“These funds are extremely important to this needy district,” he wrote.

When he got no response after five weeks, Farley wrote again. “We have all been frustrated by the delays in getting approval,” he wrote. “I urge quick action on this matter.”

This time, he got an immediate response from King. The education commissioner said more than 30 districts had applied to get back aid that had been withheld.

Education Department officials were carefully analyzing each request to make sure they met the criteria of “minor inadvertent clerical and technical errors,” King wrote. He promised that the department would have a decision “within two weeks,” meaning by March 8.

That means the decision will be made before the Schenectady school budget is completed. If the district gets its aid — which Farley expects — the money can be included in the proposed 2013-2014 budget.

The district lost $3.8 million in transportation aid after the Education Department discovered an error in a 2003 advertisement calling for bidders. The problem would have been small if the state had noticed the error right away, but it did not discover it until 2008.

By that time, the school district had awarded a contract to bidders who saw the faulty advertisement and extended that contract year after year. All six years of the contract were ruled invalid because of the error, and the Education Department demanded all of the transportation aid paid back.

Farley said that was unfair.

“The loss of this aid was an excessive penalty for a minor error, imposing an unfair burden in local taxpayers and schoolchildren,” he wrote.

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