2019-01-09 / News

Roscoe CS Lobbies for Payment of Approved School Aid Tied to Completed Construction

A Clerical Error Became a ‘Death Sentence’ Under a Rule That No Longer Exists, Super Says
By Lillian Browne

Roscoe Central School Superintendent John Evans Roscoe Central School Superintendent John Evans ROSCOE - A building project approved by the New York State Department of Education in 2008 and completed several years ago in the Roscoe School District was rejected for reimbursement aid due to a clerical error, said Roscoe Central School Superintendent John Evans.

Now the district is gearing up to shift the cost of approximately $110,000 per year, for the next 10 years to district taxpayers, beginning with the 2019-20 school budget, if another attempt to release the already approved funds is not successful.

The system which governed the release or reimbursement of funds in a building, or capital, project was changed several years ago. The prior system required the filing of certain documents at specific intervals in order to receive final payment from the State. The Roscoe School District missed one of those filings dates and the penalty imposed was to withhold final payment to the district and to take back the building aid already paid out to the district.

The Roscoe School District has an approximate 60 percent school aid reimbursement ratio.

It is frustrating, Evans said, because a simple clerical error has resulted in school district taxpayers being put on the hook for money the state had already set aside from its budget for the project.

The clerical error or oversight error was made, Evans explained, due to various factors which included litigation surrounding the building project including the contractor being fired for incompetency and the contractor’s bonding - or insurance - company going bankrupt.

Roscoe received several extensions and waivers from the State Ed Department while the litigation was ongoing but because of transitions in district staff, a third necessary waiver and extension was never applied for.

The rules by which school districts are reimbursed for building projects were changed in 2012. Previously, building aid was released by the state while the project was ongoing. Now, the district doesn’t receive any aid until the final cost reports are submitted.

Roscoe unsuccessfully challenged the ruling with the State Ed Department and turned to state lawmakers - Senator John Bonacic and Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther to sponsor a remedy bill for signature by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo refused to sign the bill at the end of December, 2018.

Evans commends the state for “fixing” the rules which govern state building aid to school districts, however, he remains flummoxed that Roscoe and a few other small district who rely heavily on state aid, were overlooked when the rules were revamped. “It’s very frustrating that they gave amnesty to districts that were impacted, but failed the districts that had unfinished projects,” Evans said.

Two larger school districts, the North Syracuse School District and Henrick Hudson School District in Westchester, were given amnesty for the same situation and their penalties were forgiven, Evans said, speaking of the disparity. It is a significant penalty for an oversight or clerical error, Evans continued, “That’s why the rules were changed.”

“This isn’t additional money that the state has to pay out, it was money that was already set aside,” Evans further explained. “Legislators were asking Cuomo to let that money flow into the district.”

The Roscoe School District is once again challenging the decision and newly-elected Senator Jen Metzger has taken on the cause, advocating alongside Assemblywoman Gunther for another remedy bill, similar to the last, which was approved by both the New York State Assembly and Senate.

Metzger, who was sworn into office on Jan. 3, issued a press release in response to Cuomo’s failure to allot amnesty to the Roscoe School District, citing her disappointment with the Cuomo administration.

Metzger told Cuomo in December that his failure to sign the amnesty bill for Roscoe and the resulting penalty would, “eviscerate their allowable growth under the real property tax cap and would create real financial hardship for the school community and taxpayers.”

The decision to deny amnesty to the Roscoe Central School District is arbitrary and a great injustice to students, educators and taxpayers, who are faced with a major and unnecessary fiscal burden, Metzger said. “Every child in New York, regardless of zip code, deserves a quality education and a safe learning environment. We are obligated to provide the same educational opportunities to all of our students.”

The Roscoe Central School District operates on a lean $9 million annual budget and the $1.11 million penalty, which will be paid in $100,000 increments over 10 years, will amount to 2.32% of the district’s annual tax levy.”

Metzger said she is committed to working with the Senate and Assembly for passage of another bill in early 2019.

Metzger represents the 42nd Senate District which includes all of Sullivan County and parts of Delaware, Orange, and Ulster Counties.

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