Funds Are Secured For Panama

CATHY YOUNG

The Panama Central School District was aided once again by state Sen. Cathy Young and Assemblyman Andy Goodell with $500,000 being secured to help repay a penalty the state Education Department enforced on the school district in 2012.

“It’s a good thing for Panama,” said Panama Superintendent Bert Lictus. “I can’t say enough about how much we appreciate (Young and Goodell’s) work on our behalf.”

The penalty was a result of mismanaged paperwork regarding cost reports after a capital project during a previous administration in 2005. The law then dictated that schools that were given a state grant for capital projects file a cost report after completion. A previous administration failed to file the report by the given deadline and New York state placed a penalty of about $4.9 million on Panama years later.

“It’s decades old,” Lictus said.

With support by Young and Goodell, the state has been routinely setting aside money each fiscal year to subsidize the penalty. Since 2012, money has been allocated to chip away at the original penalty. The 2018-19 school year will follow that trend as Panama will receive another installment of $500,000. The district will owe $1.9 million after the latest funding.

Andy Goodell

“This funding ensures that Panama Central School District taxpayers do not have to shoulder an undue tax burden caused by circumstances beyond their control,” Young said in a statement. “The district faced severe financial hardship which was caused by simple human error.”

In October, Young passed legislation that would forgive the entirety of $2.4 million owed at the time. Gov. Andrew Cuomo later vetoed the bill.

In Young’s news release announcing the most recent funding, she cited the entire penalty as the reason Panama and Clymer Central School District failed to merge. During a merger study between the two districts, the remaining money Panama owed was a frequent concern from numerous Clymer residents.

Lictus acknowledged the penalty was a concern for people in the community and added that the penalty continues to make it harder for Panama to “move forward.”

“I think it’s ridiculous the governor can’t see his way to assist us,” Lictus said.

Young, with the support of Goodell, has recently passed legislation to forgive the now remaining balance of $1.9 million. The new legislation is awaiting Cuomo’s signature.

Similar legislation dates back to 2013. In 2016, the legislation passed the Senate, but it wasn’t until 2017 it passed both the Senate and the Assembly. The current version similarly passed both houses again.

“The Senate included impact grants in the state budget to help districts like Panama that face significant financial hardships,” Young said of previous iterations of the legislation. “Because this was caused by a mistake, the Senate fought hard at the budget negotiating table in 2012 and 2013 to fully pardon the penalty, but the Assembly Speaker and Governor would not agree.”

While the Panama school district has continually received relief regarding the penalty, Lictus remains concerned about the upcoming years as the penalty is closer to being fully paid off.

“The further away we get from that initial shock (from the penalty), the more concerned I am,” he said.

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