For Immediate Release February 11, 2015
SMALL CITY SCHOOL CASE ENTERS FOURTH WEEK
NEWBURGH'S 11,000 STUDENTS STRUGGLE DUE TO LACK OF STATE FUNDING
The Small City school funding case, Maisto v State of New York, is now in its fourth week of trial in Albany before Acting State Supreme Court judge Kimberly O'Connor. Maisto is a constitutional challenge by parents and children from 8 Small City School Districts to the State's failure to provide these Districts with adequate funding. If successful, Maisto will require the State to ensure sufficient resources and funding to these Districts, a decision which may well impact similar districts throughout the state. The Maisto Districts are Jamestown, Kingston, Mount Vernon, Newburgh, Niagara Falls, Port Jervis, Poughkeepsie and Utica, serving 55,000 students and 330,000 residents.
The week began with testimony from Edward Forgit, Deputy Superintendent in Newburgh CSD. Mr. Forgit, a Newburgh native, started as the District's Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education in 2009. He also has extensive experience with special education and high need low performing schools in the Mid-Hudson area. Newburgh has about 11,000 students, of which 70% are Black and Latino, 14% are students with disabilities, and about two thirds are classified as economically disadvantaged or at-risk.
Mr. Forgit testified that, since 2009-10 the district has made extensive budget cuts to in response to significant reductions in State foundation aid over that time. For example, in 2009-10 the district had to cut approximately $8 million, in 2010-11 $6 million, in 2011-12 $17 million, in 2012-13 $12 million, in 2013-14 $5 million and in 2014-15 $6 million for a total of $56 million in six years. The total annual budget was $238,000,000 and now is $244,000,000, only 2.5% higher despite the substantially greater needs of the students.
These budget cuts triggered reductions in teaching staff, with over 200 positions lost during those six years, mostly in the elementary grades. This, in turn, resulted in an increase in class size and a reduction in the intensity of instruction for students. The District has very few certified reading teachers and is unable to provide Academic Intervention Services as required by State regulations. Mr. Forgit said that the District lacks the resources to help the more than 4,000 students needing these services in grades 3 through 8 alone.
The District has also eliminated a program to assist students in 6th through 8th grades to make up courses they had not successfully passed. The District also eliminated half the foreign language courses, the violence prevention coordinator, three of the four directors of core curriculum and all of the business courses in the high school. Mr. Forgit testified that that the District does not have the financial resources needed to provide the extended day/year, Academic Intervention Services and other services necessary to close the more than 20% gap between economically disadvantaged and non-economically disadvantaged in graduation rates.
As a result of these resource inadequacies the State is depriving many students in Newburgh of a meaningful high school education – the standard for a "sound basic education' under the New York Constitution. Mr. Forgit testified that despite the district staff's best efforts, student performance is far below what the State requires for school success. For example, as a result of inadequate resources, data shows that a third of students fail to graduate in four years,
The Maisto case is the first constitutional challenge to the State's failure to provide a sound basic education to come to trial since the historic Campaign for Fiscal Equity case in 2001 involving the New York City school system.
The issues raised by Maisto, such as the State's dramatic underfunding of New York's poorest school districts and its impact on the neediest children, are of utmost importance.
Lead counsel for the Plaintiffs are William E. Reynolds, Esq. of Bond, Schoeneck and King in Albany and Gregory Little, a partner at the White & Case law firm in New York City. White & Case is representing Plaintiffs pro bono.
The legal team also includes David Sciarra, Esq. and Wendy Lecker, Esq. of the Education Law Center, Robert E. Biggerstaff, Esq. and Laura K. Biggerstaff, Esq. of The Biggerstaff Law Firm, David F. Kunz, Esq. of DeGraff, Foy and Kunz and Megan Mercy, Esq. of NYSUT.
The New York State Association of Small City School Districts, Inc.
1280 New Scotland Road
Slingerlands, NY 12159
For More Information: Robert Biggerstaff, Esq.
The Biggerstaff Law Firm, LLP
1280 New Scotland Road
Slingerlands, NY 12159 firstname.lastname@example.org
Albany Amsterdam Auburn Batavia Beacon Binghamton Canandaigua Cohoes Corning Cortland Dunkirk Elmira Fulton Geneva Glen Cove Glens Falls Gloversville Hornell Hudson Ithaca Jamestown Johnstown Kingston Lackawanna Little Falls Lockport Long Beach Mechanicville Middletown Mount Vernon New Rochelle Newburgh Niagara Falls North Tonawanda Norwich Ogdensburg Olean Oneida Oneonta Oswego Peekskill Plattsburgh Port Jervis Poughkeepsie Rensselaer Rome Rye Salamanca Saratoga Schenectady Tonawanda Troy Utica Vernon Verona Sherrill Watertown Watervliet White Plains