The lawyer who won a court order for $5.6 billion in new school funding for New York City said last night that Yonkers was using "an ineffective strategy" in its suit against the state.
Attorney Michael Rebell said he didn't agree with one of the major arguments in Yonkers' case that Yonkers should receive education aid comparable to that of Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester because the upstate communities were much poorer than Yonkers.
"Buffalo and Rochester should get more than Yonkers, and Yonkers should do better than Scarsdale," said Rebell, counsel to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a New York City nonprofit that in 2003 won its school finance case. "Yonkers is considered average wealth and high needs, while Buffalo and Rochester are high needs and low wealth."
In a recent phone interview, Rebell said New York courts have ruled that the state constitution does not require equity among districts.
Rebell's comments were welcomed by Cicely Greaves-Vega, a Yonkers parent who was recognized by the state Department of Education for her local advocacy.
"I'm tired of hearing that Buffalo and Syracuse are getting more than Yonkers," she said. "I've seen the needs there they are huge, and they have no money."
Last week, the Yonkers Board of Education and the nonprofit Citizens for Yonkers filed a school finance lawsuit against the state, with school board Trustee Thomas Weibrecht, also a plaintiff, arguing that wealth should not be a factor in the allocation of state aid. In addition, the lawsuit argued, as did the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, that the current funding system did not provide adequate funding for the "sound, basic education" required under the state constitution.
Rebell made his comments before about 30 people at the Riverfront Library. He was soliciting support for a statewide bill, sponsored by 60 Assembly Democrats and several educational organizations, to create a statewide remedy to an order issued by state Supreme Court Justice Leland DeGrasse 10 months ago.
Weibrecht could not be reached for comment last night.
According to CFE's plan, extra funding would be given to school districts to address the added needs of students with disabilities, students in poverty, and English Language Learners. Aid levels would be based on a formula that included both property wealth and income wealth.
Yonkers would receive a boost of $14 million a year in each of four years, until Yonkers receives an annual boost of $54 million or 44 percent. Aid increases over four years for the other big cities would be: Buffalo, $234 million, or 70 percent; Rochester, $220 million, or 82 percent; Syracuse, $106 million, or 65 percent; and New York City, $4.6 billion, or 102 percent.
Rebell said 500 of 680 New York districts would receive extra funding, but only three among Westchester and Putnam counties' 46 districts Yonkers, Mount Vernon and Peekskill would qualify. Over four years, Mount Vernon would receive $40 million, a 78 percent increase, and Peekskill would receive $6 million, up 28 percent.
Support has yet to emerge in the state Senate, where Sen. Nich-olas Spano, R-Yonkers, said the bill won't come up for a vote this session.
Spano said New York City's share of the package a 25 percent, or $1.1 billion increase in the first year dwarfed Yonkers' share of $14 million or 11 percent.
"That's not going to happen," he said. "It's an insult to the taxpayers of Yonkers."