State to bail FCSD out of $1M fine

Fulton City School District Board of Education member David Cordone, pictured above right, questions district administrators during a recent board meeting. The district recently required an act of the state legislature to avoid a $1 million finance penalty.

FULTON — A missing piece of the contract between the Fulton City School District and the Golden Sun Bus Service nearly cost the district more than $1 million in state penalties, but district officials have successfully negotiated a forgiveness bill with local state lawmakers.

Legislation unanimously passed the state Assembly last week to correct what officials say was a clerical error between the Fulton City School District (FCSD) and the New York State Education Department that would have cost the district upward of $1 million.

Assemblyman Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, who proposed the bill, said if it is signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, it would prevent the district from a $1.03 million penalty for neglecting to file on-time documentation concerning the transportation contract with the state for the 2016-2017 school year.

In a statement last week, Barclay said he was pleased to see the Assembly help right the wrong by passing the bill to ratify the 2016-2017 transportation contract, and “it would be unfortunate if the state penalized the school district for a clerical error,” because it would cause the district to make “difficult cuts” to its year to year operating budget.

“Upon the Senate’s passage, I urge the governor to sign the bill into law to prevent the district from having to make difficult cuts,” Barclay said. “The state has provided forgiveness for other districts when things like this have happened in the past, and we should do the same in this case.”

Brian Pulvino, superintendent of the Fulton City School District, told Board of Education members at a recent meeting the district had not received a notice of penalty from the New York State Education Department (NYSED), although district officials had been in talks with Barclay’s office to negotiate a bill of forgiveness.

“We would get a notice indicating that there would be penalizing or retaining state aid over a series of years,” Pulvino said. “My understanding is they wouldn’t take it one lump sum — they do it over five years or ten years or whatnot.”

State and district officials say several communication issues have gotten in the way of issuing this forgiveness bill since Kathy Nichols, finance director for the Fulton City School District, flagged the issue of the missed deadline. Nichols said she first raised the issue to Superintendent Brian Pulvino two years ago “as soon as [she] found out about it.”

Nichols said weightier clerical mishaps from neighboring school districts likely took precedent above the needs of Fulton schools for financial forgiveness bills.

“I would have to believe that having issued forgiveness to North Syracuse for $20 million... for something that happened over multiple years and multiple mistakes isn’t finally not more important,” Nichols said. “It’s not like we’ve done nothing, and it’s not like anyone’s brushing it under the table.”  

David Cordone, member of the FCSD Board of Education, said district officials had worked themselves into a state of “complacency” in the last two years when it came to addressing the fact that the deadline had been missed.

“We should not be fooled into a place of complacency that this is not going to be an issue for our district,” Cordone said.  

The district, Cordone said, needed to take a more proactive approach in communicating with the governor as representatives of the Fulton school community as well as maintaining transparency with that community.

“I think the community has the right to know what’s in the balance, what’s at stake,” said Cordone.

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