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Hamburg schools lose $472,000 in state aid

The Hamburg Central School District lost $472,000 in state aid, apparently because it did not have a teacher evaluation plan in place by Jan. 17.

Director of Administrative Services Barbara Sporyz said she discovered the missing aid when she checked the state education aid website in mid-June.

“Imagine our surprise,” she told the School Board on Tuesday night. “We’ve never actually been notified.”

Hamburg was one of four school districts in the state that did not have a teacher evaluation plan approved by the state by mid-January. The penalty was to be the loss of increased state aid for the 2012-13 school year, $472,000 in Hamburg’s case. But the aid was not withheld from the district’s payment in March.

Nine parents in New York City filed a lawsuit in February, challenging the loss of $250 million in aid to their district over the failure of city teachers and administrators to agree on a plan there, and a State Supreme Court justice in Manhattan issued a preliminary injunction, saying the aid could not be withheld from New York City until the matter was aired in court. The state Education Department decided to give Hamburg and the two other districts the same consideration.

Hamburg teachers and administration agreed to a plan at the end of March, and it was approved by the state May 6.

Sporyz said the district was not overly concerned at the time about the loss of funds in the near future because of the New York City lawsuit, and they assumed it would take a lengthy legal process to resolve the suit. But she said she has since learned that parents won the suit and the state appealed the decision. She said it is not clear whether the state won its appeal, or the stay expired.

“I’m still not sure exactly which it was. All of this was done by May, which is an amazing turnaround,” she said. “We received no notification from the state, Division of Budget, Governor’s Office, SED or anybody.”

District officials are worried about the fate of another $620,000 the district is due for this year. The district must certify each year that the plan was implemented the previous year in order to receive the increase in state aid.

But since Hamburg’s plan was not approved until May 6, there was not enough time to get in the required observations and evaluations before the end of the school year.

“We are also working on what impact this might have on us for the ’13-14 school year,” interim Superintendent Richard Jetter said.

He said the district is researching what it can do to certify the plan so it does not lose aid in the future. Board member Sally Stephenson is to contact state legislators representing Hamburg.

“We’re short $472,000. Is this impacting us tomorrow, six months from now?” board member Catherine Schrauth Forcucci said.

Sporyz said she won’t know until the books are closed on the 2012-13 school year, which she is in the process of doing. The district’s auditors are coming in next month, she said. Her recommendations to the board on how to handle the loss of aid will depend on how much is left in the district’s fund balance, she said. “We need to look at it as soon as we can,” she said.