Parents & Children in Small City Schools File Appeal of Decision in Maisto Education Adequacy Case

Plaintiffs in the “Small City Schools” case, Maisto et al v State of New York, have appealed the decision handed down September 19th by Acting State Supreme Court Justice Kimberly O’Connor. Judge O’Connor’s ruling dismissed their complaint more than seventeen months after a very lengthy trial held in the Spring of 2015. Maisto is a constitutional challenge by parents from eight Small City School Districts, including Jamestown Public Schools, to the State’s failure to provide their children a constitutionally mandated “sound basic education.”

“I am in complete agreement with our appeal of Judge O’Connor’s disappointing decision,” said JPS Superintendent Tim O. Mains. “We cannot give up the fight for fair and equitable funding to small city schools, like Jamestown. In the time this case has been underway, JPS has been shortchanged by more than $146 million,” Mains noted.  “The eight school districts in this lawsuit represent the underfunding and incredible need that continues to exist throughout all of New York State, not just in in our eight cities. This is a statement that we are not going to give up on the students in our districts; we will continue to fight for their educational needs.”

A successful ruling in Maisto would require the State to ensure adequate resources and funding are available in these eight districts by fully funding the Foundation Aid formula that was devised after the successful Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) lawsuit that made similar arguments on behalf of the students in NYC schools.  A decision in favor of the Maisto districts is expected to impact similar districts throughout the state.  The Maisto districts are Jamestown, Kingston, Mount Vernon, Newburgh, Niagara Falls, Port Jervis, Poughkeepsie and Utica, serving approximately 55,000 students and 330,000 residents.

“If Judge O’Connor’s decision is allowed to stand, thirty years of court precedent will be reversed,” said Bob Biggerstaff, Executive Director of the New York Association of Small City School Districts.  “Beginning with the Levittown case and through the landmark CFE rulings, New York courts have repeatedly found that under the education article of the state constitution all children are entitled to the opportunity of a sound basic education and such children have recourse to the courts if they are denied a constitutional education. Judge O’Connor’s decision effectively strips the education article of its essential protections for elementary and secondary public school children throughout New York.”

The Maisto case is the first constitutional challenge to the State’s failure to provide a sound basic education to come to trial since the CFE case in 2001.  The issues to be raised in the Maisto appeal, especially the State’s dramatic underfunding of New York’s poorest school districts serving the state’s neediest children, are of the utmost importance and are also the subject of concerted advocacy efforts across the state. The Alliance for Quality Education (AQE), for example, has organized a walk (now underway) by parents and students from New York City to Albany on the tenth anniversary of the Court of Appeals CFE III ruling.

The notice of appeal that was filed on October 4th is to the Appellate Division, Third Department, situated in Albany.  Lead appellate counsel for the Plaintiffs are David Kunz, Esq., and George Szary, Esq., of DeGraff, Foy and Kunz, LLP in Albany, and Gregory Little, Esq., a partner at the White & Case law firm in New York City.

The legal team also includes William Reynolds, Esq., of Nixon Peabody, LLP; David Sciarra, Esq., and Wendy Lecker, Esq., of the Education Law Center; Robert E. Biggerstaff, Esq., and Laura K. Biggerstaff, Esq., of The Biggerstaff Law Firm, LLP; and Richard Casagrande, Esq., and Megan Mercy, Esq., of NYSUT.

posted on 10/07/2016 - filed under: Parents, Spotlight, Students