With a massive infusion of state aid in hand, a citizens group suing New York over inadequate education funding for Yonkers today will ask Supreme Court Justice Joan Lefkowitz to dismiss its lawsuit against the state.
The lawsuit, filed 11 months ago, charged that Yonkers students had failed to receive a "sound basic education" because the state had failed to provide enough funding for New York's fourth-largest school district.
In the recently passed state budget, Yonkers schools will receive an increase of $15 million in operating aid, $20 million from video slot machines at Yonkers Raceway, $20 million in magnet school aid and $18 million for capital projects.
"We accomplished what we set out to do, which was to bring record amounts of recurring aid to the children of Yonkers," said Thomas Weibrecht, chairman of Citizens for Yonkers, the nonprofit plaintiff. "That was the purpose of the litigation."
Parent Marla Hurban, who was a board member of Citizens for Yonkers, said it appeared that the group's strategy had succeeded.
"I think it was a good investment," she said.
While the school board was among the initial plaintiffs, Lefkowitz ruled in November that the school board could not sue the state over state aid. Nevertheless, the school district continued to finance the litigation.
The district has paid $2.5 million in legal fees to McDermott Will & Emery, a Manhattan law firm, district spokeswoman Jerilynne Fierstein said. Details on the firm's outstanding bills were not available late yesterday afternoon.
The lawsuit was patterned after the Campaign for Fiscal Equity's lawsuit in New York City. That case, filed in 1993, resulted in a ruling that the state Legislature provide at least $4.7 billion in operating aid by April 1. The Legislature so far has failed to do that.
When the lawsuit was filed, Weibrecht and others said they hoped it would help pressure the state Legislature to boost state aid in a year when the district faced a $100 million revenue shortfall. Weibrecht completed his second two-year term on the school board Friday and was precluded from appointment for a third term because he works in City Hall.
"This year, in no small part due to the litigation we brought and the issues we raised, Albany has finally recognized that Yonkers schools have been inadequately funded and desperately needed a substantial infusion of new funds," he said.
Mayor Phil Amicone said the lawsuit was an important part of Yonkers' strategy to convince state lawmakers that Yonkers deserved more money.
Amicone also took a conciliatory approach with state lawmakers as he wooed them with repeated trips to Albany seeking their help.
"The lawsuit brought by CFY, and originally by the Board of Education, was designed to open up a new front in our fight for more funding," Amicone said.