Yonkers declared victory this week in its battle for more state school aid by withdrawing a lawsuit filed 11 months ago to secure more funding. City government and the Board of Education are apparently willing to take the state at its word that millions of dollars in additional funding granted this year will be recurring in future years. That's a leap of faith considering that city schools were bruised in earlier years when additional aid was not forthcoming. That's what brought on the lawsuit.
The city and school board first sued in 1987, when the state refused to help Yonkers with its federal school desegregation case. It took the city 10 years of litigation before a federal appeals court sided with Yonkers in a ruling that resulted in a $300 million state settlement.
Yonkers declined to join the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit on behalf of New York City schoolchildren in 1993. That was a mistake. The CFE suit was Yonkers' best hope of resolving 20 years of state underfunding of its schools and the loss of millions of dollars under an aid cap imposed in 1990. Yonkers preferred the political route, which resulted in more money at the moment but quickly reverted to annual budget crises that led to massive layoffs and program eliminations two years ago.
The CFE eventually won its case. The state is under court order to provide at least $4.7 billion in operating aid to New York City, though Albany has yet to comply.
Yonkers unsuccessfully pursued a political solution again in 1999, when the city and school board refused to join the Yonkers Branch, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in appealing a judicial ruling that took the state off the hook for $47 million in state desegregation aid for that year.
Now, in asking a state Supreme Court justice to dismiss the case, the school district-backed Citizens for Yonkers group that filed the suit said its objective obtaining enough state money to ensure a "sound basic education" for students had been achieved.
Thomas Weibrecht, a former school trustee who chairs the group, said, "We accomplished what we set out to do, which was to bring record amounts of recurring aid to the children of Yonkers. That was the purpose of the litigation."
The governor and Legislature agreed on a package that does put the Yonkers school district on firmer financial ground than it has known in a decade. It probably helped that Mayor Phil Amicone made "building partnerships" with Albany a key part of his March State of the City address. Amicone is also forming a Partners in Education Foundation modeled after the nonprofit Fund for Public Schools that has raised more than $109 million for New York City schools. That should go far in involving the pubic with the school system.
So far, the school district has spent $2.5 million on lawyers, and the final bill has yet to come in. If the state keeps its word on recurring aid and inequity creep is not permitted, it will be worth it.