ALBANY Twenty-six small-city school districts are going to court to get a fair share of state school aid.
The state Association of Small City School Districts, which plans to file the suit in state Supreme Court in Albany this week, contends that the state has failed in its obligation to provide an opportunity for all New York schoolchildren to get a good education.
"The Legislature has created not one but two systems, one for wealthier schools where opportunities are great and one for children in the poorer schools where opportunities are woefully inadequate to the task," said Tom McGowan, Glens Falls superintendent and the associations president.
The Oneonta City School District belongs to the association, but is not among the plaintiffs or the 11 other districts supporting the suit.
However, a revamped school funding formula would help the Oneonta district, said Bob Biggerstaff, the associations executive director.
"They would benefit generally, but they dont have glaring needs," he said.
Newburgh Superintendent Annette Saturnelli said if the lawsuit is successful, it will help all needy districts in the state, including rural districts.
The suit is modeled after the suit filed by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity over state aid to New York City schools. In January, a state Supreme Court justice ruled that the city should get an additional $1.4 billion in school aid for 2005-06 and an extra $5.6 billion within four years. Gov. George Pataki plans to appeal that order.
The small-cities lawsuit will not seek a specific dollar amount, Biggerstaff said.
But a report released by the group last year, based on 2000-01 data, concluded that school districts throughout the state, including New York City, were being shorted about $7 billion in operating aid.
Many small-city districts suffer from high poverty levels and high local tax burdens, but state-aid formulas dont reflect their needs, Biggerstaff said.
If the states 57 small-city school districts had received average state aid increases over the seven-year period ending last year, they would have gotten an additional $250 million, he said.
Peter Constantakes, a spokesman for the governor, said he couldnt comment because administration officials had not seen the suit.
In his executive budget, Pataki proposed a $526 million increase in school aid for 2005-06.
A Senate budget bill passed Tuesday would provide $580 million in school aid, an increase of 3.8 percent. The Assembly budget plan would increase aid by $790 million, a 5 percent increase.
During the past 10 years, state aid to New York schools has increased by $5.5 billion, a 56 percent increase.