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Justice officials reject Schenectady school aid complaint

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Justice officials reject Schenectady school aid complaint

Schenectady schools Superintendent Laurence Spring said he is being tossed from department to depart
Justice officials reject Schenectady school aid complaint
Schenectady City School District Superintendent Laurence Spring addresses the district's Board of Education in this Nov. 20, 2014 photo.

Schenectady schools Superintendent Laurence Spring said he is being tossed from department to department in the federal government as he presses the school district’s complaint over how the state distributes education aid.

The U.S. Department of Justice said in a letter dated Nov. 10 that it will not take action over the district’s complaint against the state. Instead, it referred Spring to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, where Spring filed a complaint in December.

Spring argues the state’s formula to distribute school funding discriminates against districts with high concentrations of minority students. His complaint is filed against the governor, the Legislature, the comptroller, the state Education Department and the state Board of Regents, but the Office for Civil Rights has jurisdiction to investigate only the Education Department and Board of Regents, he said.

“They don’t give money to the governor, the Legislature and the comptroller,” Spring said. “Withholding money is the only way they can enforce the Civil Rights Act.”

Spring said the Office for Civil Rights still hasn’t decided whether to open an investigation. The Gazette was unable to reach the Office for Civil Rights for comment.

Spring turned to the Department of Justice in July to investigate the governor, Legislature and comptroller, but officials there say the department doesn’t have jurisdiction.

“We have determined that DOJ has not provided federal financial assistance to any of the entities responsible for education funding,” the department said in the letter. “Accordingly, no further action on your complaint will be taken by the Department of Justice.”

Spring said he plans to continue his fight, however, because he believes the Department of Justice is the appropriate agency for the complaint.

“In order to dismiss a complaint, they would have to evaluate it,” he said. “We have not officially had our complaint evaluated by anyone yet. I don’t think they fully read our complaint. They said it should go to Civil Rights, but we sent Justice their response about why they don’t have jurisdiction. Justice didn’t dismiss the complaint, but doesn’t think it belongs with them. We believe they need to evaluate it.”

The Schenectady City School District receives only 54 percent of the school aid it should receive from the state under a funding formula Cuomo and the state Legislature agreed to, Spring said. That has shortchanged the district by $62 million each year. The student body is 65 percent minority, according to district spokeswoman Karen Corona.

“We certainly want to push Justice because they are getting more assertive with race equity, so they should address it,” he said. “There are a number of urban districts nationwide in a similar situation, and they may be concerned about the large-scale impact if they decide to investigate this.”

The Office for Civil Rights was “Plan A” and the Department of Justice “Plan B,” Spring said, but he also has a “Plan C” — the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“We think this situation has a pretty significant impact on housing, and we would pursue development of a complaint toward that end with HUD,” he said. “We would file the complaint if we feel like no progress is being made with Civil Rights and Justice, so it depends on our level of frustration.”

Spring’s efforts have not gone unnoticed, even though his attempts to jump-start an investigation have not moved forward. Spring was honored with the Ned Pattison Award by the New York Civil Liberties Union last week for his tireless efforts seeking more education aid for districts with disadvantaged students.

“It’s great to have this work recognized and to know that other people are taking notice of it and think it’s good work,” Spring said. “When I started this, I didn’t think it would be work that anyone would notice. The award is extremely humbling.”

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