When it comes to public relations, the state Education Department has some serious learning to do.
It may not be that unusual for a state agency or other bureaucratic arm of government to ignore local media efforts to clarify a story. (The department has repeatedly done this with the Gazette regarding the $3.8 million in transportation aid State Ed docked the Schenectady City School District several years ago over a minor clerical mistake.) But when the agency also refuses to respond to similar, repeated requests from the school district itself, and from state legislators representing the city, it’s hard not to wonder what’s going on.
Maybe nobody ever promised Schenectady it would get its money back, at least not in so many words. But after bills ordering reimbursement were vetoed by a couple of governors, the state Legislature passed something in last year’s budget bill that gave State Ed license to provide the money; it then indicated it would, but still hasn’t. And it has done little but stall when district officials, Assemblyman Phil Steck and Sen. Hugh Farley have made inquiries. These people say they haven’t even been getting their phone calls returned — hardly the way for a branch of state government to conduct business.
As a story in yesterday’s Gazette indicated, the district — which is one of the poorest in the state and has been getting shortchanged on operating aid for years — badly needs every penny it can get to avoid making (additional) deep budget cuts. Because the city of Schenectady failed to pony up $3.2 million in unpaid property taxes that was due last year, the district would only be able to use $600,000 to offset its deficit. But if none of that money arrives, the budget hole will be that much bigger, requiring even deeper cuts.
And D-Day is approaching: The district must finalize its budget within the next two weeks because it has to be put before voters next month. If the reimbursement comes through after that, the district won’t be able to spend it until next year and the cuts will have to stand.
For the sake of Schenectady’s kids — who will be the big losers if that happens — and for taxpayers, we hope State Ed finds some way to return the money quickly. Just as important, it needs to do something about its customer relations.