Lockport Union-Sun & Journal. 3/18/2005.

The New York State Association of Small City School Districts is moving ahead with a lawsuit to force New York to cough up more money for education.

Lockport City School District is backing the effort with cash support.

The Niagara Falls and Tonawanda city school districts are among 15 litigants who will argue inadequate state funding prevents them from providing the “sound, basic education” that students are entitled to under the state constitution.

The suit mimics one by the Campaign For Fiscal Equity, which posed the same argument on behalf of New York City schools. An Appeals Court ruling in favor of CFE translated, theoretically at least, to the state having to pour billions more in aid into Big Apple schools. Gov. George Pataki is presently appealing the court order directing the state to give those schools $5.6 billion more.

Small City district litigants are paying $3,000 per year to be part of the suit for as long as it lasts. Supporters were asked to contribute $1,000 per year to help defray legal costs.

Late last year, the Lockport school board authorized a one-year commitment on Superintendent Bruce Fraser’s recommendation, with the understanding the commitment would be reviewed after a year.

Fraser had argued that while Lockport would not directly benefit from a ruling in favor of NYSASCSD — only the litigants could win a claim of underfunding — the practical effect of a Small City victory would be further pressure on the state Legislature and Governor’s office to increase and/or reform funding for schools across the state.

“Small City districts tend to serve a needier population,” Fraser said this week. “We have a lower per-pupil expenditure, yet the taxes that we levy are approximately 20 percent higher.”

The motivation for the suit is simple, according to NYSASCSD director Bob Biggerstaff.

“(Small City districts) have already asked their taxpayers to shoulder a burden which is far above what the state tax burden is, and they’re still not able to fund schools adequately.”

The suit, expected to be filed this week, has financial support from districts including Batavia, Cortland, Hornell, New Rochelle and Peekskill.

A NYSASCSD-commissioned study says the state should, over six years, spend $7 billion more across New York to provide adequate funding to districts. The state now spends about $15.4 billion.