Schenectady schools Superintendent Laurence Spring is sticking to the old-school motto: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
After one federal agency rejected his civil rights complaint, he’s sending it to a second. This time, it’s going by mail to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Last time, when it went to the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education, Spring delivered it in person. But this time, he didn’t make a trip to Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“They told us that they will not accept initial filings in person,” Spring said. “Once they receive it, we can schedule an appointment.”
There’s a regional office in Albany, but Spring said the department probably hesitated to let him deliver it there because it may need to be investigated by workers in Washington. The department hasn’t yet decided which office would handle the complaint.
“I think that’s why they wanted to receive it first,” Spring said. “I think we know it’s also somewhat political, so they may want to keep it in D.C.”
He added that the Washington office also has more resources than the regional office to investigate such a lengthy and complicated complaint.
Spring alleges state aid to schools is disproportionately going to white students. He researched state funding for each school district in New York, comparing the actual aid given to the amount the state formula said the district should receive, based on poverty levels and other factors.
Almost no district gets the full aid specified by the formula, but districts get widely varying percentages. According to Spring’s research, the districts with the most minorities generally get the lowest percentages of aid.
Schenectady gets 55 percent of the aid it is promised under the formula. By comparison, neighboring Niskayuna receives 66 percent of the aid it should get. Schenectady’s schools have far more minority students than Niskayuna, whose student body is mostly white.
The Department of Justice will first review the complaint and decide whether officials there will investigate it. If they do, it could be a lengthy process, Spring said.
They’ll probably try to resolve the complaint without a full investigation, he added.
“They want a negotiated settlement,” he said.
The Office of Civil Rights looked into the matter, but eventually decided not to investigate, but Spring was undeterred. He said the Office of Civil Rights was still considering his complaint against the state Department of Education and the Board of Regents, but not against the governor and Legislature, who decide on aid amounts each year.
Spring said a settlement would be possible only if it came from the politicians who control the state budget.