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Campaign for Fiscal Equity

State Witnesses Again Fail To Provide Justification For Governor's SBE Figures

After presenting testimony by three witnesses, the State of New York was still unable to address a basic, but vital question asked repeatedly by the panel: what is the basis of the $1.93 billion figure presented by the State as the funding increase needed for New York City to deliver its students the opportunity for a sound basic education? (CFE asserts that at least $5.6 billion is needed.)

The first witness, Charles Foster, the chief budget examiner for the New York State Division of the Budget, testified that $1.93 billion had been "identified" by the S&P calculator and Zarb Commission report as the amount required to provide the opportunity for a sound basic education to all students in New York City, and that the governor's plan would possibly add to this up to $2.77 billion in additional increases over the next five years (largely through city and federal funding), depending on need and funding availability. When asked if he was the person who determined that $1.93 billion -- the lowest in a matrix of 18 figures discussed in the S&P report -- was the appropriate adequacy amount, Mr. Foster said no. He admitted that the $1.93 billion figure was neither a recommendation of Standard & Poor's nor the Zarb Commission, and that the figure was determined by "policymakers." When pressed to identify these "policymakers," Mr. Foster said they included the governor but was unable to specify anyone else.

During cross examination, Joseph Wayland, co-counsel lawyer for the plaintiffs, asked the witness how much money it would take to reduce class sizes and provide enough qualified teachers to meet the Court of Appeals mandate and provide our children the opportunity for a sound basic education. Mr. Foster admitted, once again, that he could not attest to the governor's $1.93 figure as being sufficient to provide all New York City students with a sound basic education, and asked that the question be deferred to the "experts" and "policymakers." After further questioning, Mr. Foster responded that the City of New York was in fact in a better position to address this question to which Mr. Wayland replied, "the city has proposed a $5.3 billion increase for New York City. Are you now saying that this is what is needed to fulfill the mandate?" Mr. Foster did not respond directly to this question. When Mr. Wayland asked whether the governor or any of the policymakers who determined that $1.93 billion was sufficient would be testifying in the hearings, Mr. Foster was unable to provide a specific response. According to the witness list that the Attorney General's office has submitted to the panel, neither the governor nor any other state policymakers are scheduled to appear.

The second witness presented by the defendants was Charles Szuberla, director of School Operations and Management Services at the New York State Education Department. Mr. Szuberla described the nuts and bolts of the state's building formula. Although some districts are reimbursed for up to 95 percent of their actual costs, he testified that New York City, on average in recent years, has received under 30 percent reimbursement of the actual costs of constructing new buildings. After Mr. Szuberla presented the referees with a hypothetical scenario on how the building aid formula operates, Judge Milonas asked if the State was going to provide an exact dollar amount needed for New York City, as the plaintiffs did, in order to help the panel make their recommendations. The State said that it was not prepared to do so, adding that Mr. Szuberla "is as expert as it gets" in this area, and they had no intention of putting forth another witness to address this question.

During plaintiffs' cross examination, Michael A. Rebell, CFE Executive Director and Counsel, established the fact that Mr. Szuberla had served as a member of the Sound Basic Education Task Force that prepared the reform recommendations and capital funding proposal that plaintiffs have endorsed and submitted to the court. Mr. Rebell asked Mr. Szuberla if New York City, given its serious overcrowding issues and state of its crumbling buildings, can truly deliver a sound basic education without a major infusion of dollars for facilities. Mr. Szuberla agreed that "substantially more" money was needed. Although he said he was not in a position to personally endorse the $8.9 billion figure in the task force report proposal, he did say that as a member of CFE's task force on facilities, its methodology was sound and caliber of participants high. Mr. Szuburla also testified that he personally agreed with most of the recommendations for reform of the state's current building aid formula as proposed by the Sound Basic Education Task Force.

The defendants' third witness, John Cape, the Division of the Budget's first deputy director, presented his affidavit but did not give any oral testimony.

The next hearing of the special masters is scheduled for October 7 at 9:00 am at the Bar Association of the City of New York see full schedule>>.

October 6, 2004

Parents from across the state march on the Capitol in Albany to show support for CFE.
CFE Litigation CFE v. State of New York
In 2006, after 13 years in the Courts, the New York State Court of Appeals affirmed the right of every public school student in New York to the opportunity for a sound basic education and the state’s responsibility to adequately fund this right, but deferred to the Governor and the Legislature to determine the appropriate amount. more >