The Schenectady City School District is ready to file its civil rights complaint against the state.
“It’s all ready to go,” said Superintendent Laurence Spring.
The complaint alleges that the state is funding schools with minorities at a lower level than schools with mostly white students.
This week, he plans to deliver the complaint in person. But he’s not going to the U.S. Department of Justice, as he had planned. Instead, he’s going to the U.S. Department of Education.
Over the last week, he’s had many phone conversations with officials at both departments. Both of them “claimed some level of jurisdiction” over the complaint, he said. But the Department of Education won out.
“We think they have broader jurisdiction and, because of some personnel changes, they may be a little more aggressive,” he said.
That’s the crux of the issue. Spring has maneuvered politically in an effort to get quick attention to the complaint. He said investigators could choose to leave it on a desk for months or start work on it right away. But the eager attention from two departments suggests that investigators will not let the complaint languish.
However, Spring isn’t taking any chances. He said he will go to the department headquarters in New York City to bring the complaint to the investigator himself.
About 70 residents have signed on as co-complainants, alleging damage to their children in school or to themselves as taxpayers because of inadequate funding from the state.
Residents in New York City began this fight more than a decade ago. The Campaign for Fiscal Equity obtained in a settlement in which the state agreed on how much each school district would need to spend to provide a “sound, basic education” for its students.
High-need students, including students living in entrenched poverty, were classified as more expensive to teach and thus in need of more state aid. Poor districts, where taxpayers couldn’t afford to cover much of the costs of education, were also classified as deserving more state aid.
But after the state agreed to a formula to fund what each school needed, the economy crashed, and the state never provided most school districts with all of the aid that the state formula says they should get.
Still, Spring found a huge disparity between the percentage of aid given to mostly white schools and mostly minority schools. Specifically, Schenectady received 52 percent of the aid it’s supposed to get, while the typical school district received 82 percent of its aid, he said.
If Schenectady got 82 percent of its aid, it would get an additional $38 million every year.