FULTON — Gov. Kathy Hochul this month vetoed a bill that would have amended a fine looming over the Fulton City School District, sparking a response from local education and elected leaders.
On Oct. 8, Hochul continued a precedent set under previous Gov. Andrew Cuomo to veto a bill that would reverse the disallowance of transportation aid to the Fulton City School District (FCSD) following a “clerical” error from 2015. The paperwork miscue could cost FCSD more than $1 million.
According to Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, the lack of legislative support from the governor’s office was an “unsympathetic” move against the district and its students.
“While not ideal, clerical errors are common in municipal governance,” Barclay said in a statement earlier this month. “Under most circumstances, these situations are easily remedied through legislative action and no harm comes from them. Withholding the aid any further is needlessly punitive and extremely disappointing for the families residing in the school district.”
The issue stems from a December 2015 decision by the FCSD board to file for an extension to transmit the district’s annual transportation contracts to state officials. Transportation aid, like many other aspects of education spending, can be partially funded by the state if districts pursue that route. Fulton is one of roughly 230 districts across the state — or more than a quarter of the nearly 800 total districts — that contract with a third-party for transportation services. In Fulton’s case the third-party is Golden Sun Bus Service Inc.
Hochul’s veto is the latest step in a string of failed attempts by legislators to correct the issue. State lawmakers have proposed multiple bills since 2018 to rectify the issue, but each time has been met with a veto, something state Senator Patty Ritchie, R-Heuvelton called a “disappointment.”
“While I am disappointed by the governor’s recent veto of my bill to restore more than $1 million in transportation aid to the Fulton City School District, I remain optimistic this important issue will be addressed in the near future,” Ritchie told The Palladium-Times this week. “There are nearly a dozen school districts across the state facing similar situations.”
Other, separate bills vetoed on Oct. 8 rectifying similar issues include: a bill associated with building cost reports in the Panama Central School District, a bill negating issues with transportation contracts within the Corning Central School District, and another for building cost reports from the Monticello Central School District.
In addition to those, bills addressing contract issues in the Syracuse City School District and Cold Spring Harbor Central School District are currently going under consideration in the state legislature, according to state documents.
FCSD Superintendent Brian Pulvino told The Palladium-Times this week that the district, if no relief bills are passed, faces a $1.03 million penalty from the state Department of Education due to the error. He stressed that the state could, at any time, start restricting some annual funds from future state aid to cover the fine.
The state has not started that process, he said.
“This would truly (just) be a penalty,” Pulvino said. “However, with this hang-up they would need to come back and garnish (the fee) over a three-year period from our state aid.”
Pulvino stressed that no funding for transportation has been restricted from the district, and the district has “never had any withholdings.”
Ritchie said the governor’s office has indicated its intent to address the separate issues in the forthcoming state budget. Pulvino added that from his experience that would not be unusual.
“I think they are going to look at it through the budgeting process, which has been looked at in the past,” Pulvino said.
Barclay said the state shouldn’t have to wait to nullify the issue because it already has the ability to address it.
“Recently, New York State received a tremendous amount of federal and state revenues, as noted in the Division of the Budget’s First Quarter Financial Plan update. As a result, the state is in a much better position to remedy this error than the school district,” Barclay said. “The role of government is to take care of the residents living in their jurisdiction, not to punish school kids for paperwork oversights.”
Both Barclay and Ritchie said they intend to continue pushing the issue through additional legislative actions in the future. Pulvino said the district is thankful to both of them for their efforts.
“I believe we will continue to go on the path we have gone through, and as (the governor’s) team gets a better feel for things, hopefully there will be a more affirmative outcome in the future,” Pulvino said.