FULTON – Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week vetoed a package of bills including one that would have reversed the disallowance of transportation aid to the Fulton City School District prompting outcry from local education and elected officials.
The governor took his red pen to the bill, carried by Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, which would have restored $1.6 million in transportation aid to the Fulton City School District (FCSD) to remedy a “clerical” error from 2015.
Barclay said Wednesday the veto was “senseless, shortsighted and punishes the students, parents and residents” of the district.
“This measure has the overwhelming support of both houses of the Legislature and is an overdue step to provide critical school funding that had previously been approved,” Barclay said. “Fixing a simple clerical error in the district should not be this difficult.”
The issue stems from a December 2015 decision by the FCSD board to file an extension in the timeline for transmitting its annual transportation contracts to state officials. Transportation aid, like many other facets of education spending, can be partially funded by the state if districts pursue that route. Fulton is one of roughly 230 district across the state (of nearly 800 total districts) that contracts for its transportation services with an outside company — in this case, Golden Sun Bus Service Inc.
According to FCSD Superintendent Brian Pulvino, an error in submitting the extension paperwork has led to this unfortunate point.
“The governor is digging in his heels, and we’ve been fighting this for years,” said Pulvino. The district, according to the superintendent, could not file its entire four-year contract with Golden Sun at once due to state protocols, and as such had to file each one-year contract every year. One of those years got lost in the shuffle.
In his veto message, Cuomo said the bill would “create new financial obligations not accounted for within the state’s financial plan.”
Pulvino disputed that rationale.
“This is truly a paperwork issue,” Pulvino said. “The state says it’s a burden but if you look at the governor’s proposed budget (released each spring), it contains projections based on the year before’s actual spending. It’s already built into the budget.”
Pulvino said the district has built in roughly $530,000 to its annual budget “for payback” in the event that state aid was withheld — as it now appears to be. They’re not giving up, however.
“We’ll keep pushing forgiveness bills,” Pulvino said, noting he has been in contact with state Legislators Barclay and State Sen. Patty Ritchie, R-Heuvelton.
Barclay also noted the bill passed 143-1 in the Assembly and unanimously in the 63-member Senate.
“The governor is making a bad situation worse and creating more financial pressure for the school district at a time when they can least afford it,” Barclay said.
Ritchie told the Pall-Times on Thursday she was disappointed and concerned about “pressure” on the district.
“Whether it’s the challenge of having to teach students remotely or doing more with less when it comes to funding, school districts across our state are having to overcome a number of hurdles right now,” said Ritchie. “Again vetoing this measure — which passed unanimously in the Senate — puts even more pressure on the Fulton City School District during an already extremely challenging time for its educators, students and families.”
A request for clarification on the governor's stance was not returned by press time.