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Small Cities Lawsuit Enters 13th Year

New York state is arguing that school districts are not required to provide smaller class sizes, Academic Intervention Services and anything more than limited services for English Language Learners and and social workers for at-risk students.

Robert Biggerstaff, said in a news release this week that the state Attorney General’s office argued recently in oral arguments before Appellate Division, Third Department justices that such services aren’t required under the state Constitution in the eight small city school districts that are part of the Maisto v. State of New York lawsuit. A group of 80 plaintiffs in the eight districts — Jamestown, Kingston, Mount Vernon, Newburgh, Niagara Falls, Port Jervis, Poughkeepsie and Utica — are in the midst of a second appeal of a trial judge’s decision that would have ended the case.

Judge Kimberly O’Connor’s first decision in the case was unanimously reversed (5-0) by the Appellate Division, Third Department in 2017 and remanded for further review. O’Connor then decided against the small city schools again, prompting the second appeal.

“The time is long overdue for New York state to recognize the unique and urgent needs of school districts that serve large numbers of students who are living in poverty,” said Dr. Kevin Whitaker, Jamestown Public Schools superintendent in a news release. “They should acknowledge that these students have just as much right to a good education as other students in the state. For all of the empty words about equity and support, we have a very real, very great need right now, right here in Jamestown.”

In the second decision, O’Connor wrote the state constitution does not require schools to compensate for socio-economic deficits of their students and that the small city school districts could not show they had the the great need shown by New York City in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case.

In that case, the Court of Appeals found that New York City was not providing a sound basic education as constitutionally required. Lawyers for the small city school districts argue the judge in the original Campaign for Fiscal Equity case did not cite any facts about the need in New York City schools and point out many of the small city school districts are less wealthy than New York City.

Jamestown, for example, has 25% of the property and income wealth that New York City possesses.

“Jamestown, as well as other small cities across our state, has a growing population of students who need support to succeed. JPS and other small city school districts have some of lowest per student allocations in the state,” said Nina Karbacka, JPS Board of Education member and past president/advisory board member of the New York State Association of Small City School Districts, in a statement. “These students deserve the opportunity to thrive and this takes interventions that require adequate funding. Refusing us these necessary resources is ruling against our poorest students. Our JPS goal of achieving equity means giving each student what he or she needs to succeed. I hope the courts acknowledge these individual student needs and rule to help our neediest students.”

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