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School Board backs suit over funding N. Tonawanda puts up $5,000

While it may not be the poorest small-city school district in New York, the North Tonawanda School Board voted Tuesday to back a new lawsuit to force state officials to provide it and other small-city districts with their fair share of aid.

By a 6-0 vote, the board allocated $5,000 to help the New York State Association of Small City School Districts pursue the matter in the state courts.

Assistant Superintendent Susan L. Villiers said if the association is successful, "the district could receive an additional $2 million a year in state aid," a 7 percent increase in assistance.

Member David Rechin said the $5,000 investment is minuscule compared to the help the city would receive if the lawsuit is successful.

Other Western New York small-city districts would do even better because their residents are even more economically deprived. Tonawanda would receive an extra $3 million a year and Niagara Falls would pick up an extra $23 million annually. Jamestown would get an added $13 million a year and Dunkirk, $7 million, according to association estimates.

Villiers said the association feels there is a good chance for success because New York City, in its Campaign for Fiscal Equity, won its suit to bring more state funding to Big Apple schools because the state has not been giving them the aid they were entitled to since allocations are supposed to be based on need. Instead, she said the state has been parceling more money out to affluent districts than was appropriate, at the expense of poorer communities.

Villiers said New York City won its suit because it used children as plaintiffs in its case, which is what the Association of Small City School Districts plans to do now. She said about 69 small-city school districts could be positively affected if the suit is successful.

The board had the option of supporting the lawsuit with a $1,000 contribution, but board Vice President David Guido said he was in favor of being fully involved in the case. The rest of the board agreed.

In other action, the board approved a budget development calendar to help it come up with a 2008-09 spending package.

The board set its budget vote and a School Board election for May 20 following a May 13 public budget hearing and a board budget adoption vote on April 22. The calendar contains six budget workshops that are set from March 4 through April 22.

e-mail: pwestmoore@buffnews.com

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