ALBANY, N.Y. -- An appeals court is scheduled to make two rulings Tuesday that could force the state to come up with billions of dollars more in school aid for September and blow apart New York's first on-time budget in 20 years.


The state Appellate Division decisions concern two motions in the Campaign For Fiscal Equity lawsuit already won against the state, but which is being appealed by the Pataki administration.

 

CFE seeks to eliminate the temporary stay or delay of the court order to pay billions of dollars more in state school aid to New York City schools until the appeal is decided. The parent and teachers union group also seeks to force the appeal to be decided quicker, by the end of June instead of a year or more from now as would normally be the case.


A victory in either could force the state to pay more state aid beginning in September to New York City schools, which the state's highest court said has been shortchanged by Albany for decades. The Court of Appeals in June 2003 upheld a judge's ruling and found Albany failed to provide a sound education as required by the state constitution.


In November, a court panel ordered the state to pay $23 billion more in operating and capital funding over five years. That would include $1.41 billion more in the first year, increasing to $5.6 billion more per year. New York City schools now get about $5.85 billion of the state's $15.4 billion in annual school aid.


"We're pushing very hard," said CFE's Michael Rebell on Friday. "There's been enough delay and this is noncompliance with the Court of Appeals decision ... I would say the governor and Legislature are under the gun."


The Pataki administration expects to win because the appeal, which goes to the separation of powers in government, must get a full airing at the Court of Appeals before any new spending is ordered, said Pataki spokesman Todd Alhart.


"The court's decision requires the state to spend too much and reform too little," he said. Pataki will continue to try to negotiate a statewide solution, Alhart said.


Critics say the time of negotiation is over.


"The way non-lawyers would view this thing, and the way I think it should be viewed, is this a delaying tactic (by Pataki) designed more to put off the day of reckoning," said David Ernst of the state School Boards Association that has been supportive of CFE's lawsuit. CFE "makes a good point. It's been 12 years and every year that goes by means another contingent of children goes by ... How long does this go on?"


Legally, CFE faces a tough day Tuesday, said Albany Law School Professor Vincent Bonventre, an expert on the New York's appeals courts. He said he can't imagine CFE winning the day.


"What CFE is asking for is entirely understandable, but it's drastic action," Bonventre said.


Bonventre said the CFE decision under appeal not only tells the state to act, but it tells the state how much to spend. CFE argues that the unusually detailed order from the court came only after Pataki and the Legislature failed to negotiate a settlement with CFE.


"None of this is to suggest (CFE's motions) aren't without merit. It's just that they are asking the court to take the kind of action that courts are most hesitant to make," Bonventre said. "It could develop into a separation of powers crisis ... the issues here are just too complex and just too serious to deal with on a summary basis."