“How long, baby, how long? Will State Ed. string Schenectady along? We’ll be waitin’ ... for that money ... till we’re gone.”
If the Schenectady school board sang a version of the classic “How Long Blues,” those would undoubtedly be the lyrics.
The district finally heard definitively Wednesday (after what? three years of being jerked around?) that it’s going to be reimbursed the $3.8 million it was docked for an inconsequential mistake in a legal ad for bus service a decade ago. A state bureaucrat discovered the mistake five years after the fact, resulting in the district having to repay five years’ worth of transportation aid.
The district got the state Legislature’s forgiveness on more than one occasion, but first David Paterson, then Andrew Cuomo — in the midst of recession-fueled budget crises — vetoed bills that would have reimbursed the district, which weathered a few budget crises of its own during the period and continues having to make deep program cuts to balance its budget. Once again, the Legislature came to the district’s rescue last year, with a provision tucked into the state budget bill, but State Ed. ignored this, as well as efforts by the district, area legislators and local media to find out what was going on.
In fact, school board members had already dismissed the possibility that the long-promised money would arrive in time to avoid additional deep cuts slated for next year — including the closing of a school and 106 layoffs — when State Ed.’s acknowledgement came Wednesday. It’s just as well that they hadn’t spent the money already because they still don’t know when it’s going to arrive!
“Three years, five years, 10 years — it could easily be 10 years,” board President Cathy Lewis lamented before the board met to finalize next year’s budget.
We understand that the state continues to have financial problems, but they probably pale in comparison to the Schenectady school district’s, which — as its new superintendent has been pointing out to anyone who’ll listen — hasn’t been getting its fair share of state aid for years.
If the state can spend $410 million a year on tax rebate checks for families earning up to $300,000, it can surely afford to make the struggling Schenectady school district whole for $3.8 million it shouldn’t have taken in the first place.