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'Small Cities' lawsuit thrown out, along with millions in school aid

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A New York court has thrown out a lawsuit against the state brought by eight small city school districts that could have meant millions of dollars annually in additional school aid.

The so-called "small cities" lawsuit claimed that New York State is denying students' constitutional right to a sound basic education by not fully funding its own school aid formula. However, acting state Supreme Court Justice Kimberly O'Connor ruled that the state is ultimately allowed to adjust school funding levels based upon its own fiscal condition.

Niagara Falls was one of the districts pursuing the lawsuit. Schools Superintendent Mark Laurrie said he has not read the judge's full decision, but "it is a really disappointing ruling."

"I know we're mounting an appeal of this case, but it was really a blow for both small city schools and schools with high needs," he said. "I think it was acknowledged that students in poverty need more resources, yet they didn't feel the case was strong enough to grant monies."

Laurrie said a favorable ruling could have meant some $19 million for Cataract schools alone. He believed the districts had made a strong case.

"We proved that school district wealth is a contributing factor to the success of kids and, when students have smaller classes, social workers, counselors, AIS (Academic Intervention Services) teachers and other resources like that, you'll see a rise in test scores," he said.

Laurrie said this is not going to stop educators in their work, but they will have to get more creative with programming and lobby elected officials to get additional funding.

Niagara County Assemblymember John Ceretto has voiced his disappointment with the ruling. The Lewiston Democrat said he has sponsored legislation to adjust the state's aid formula to protect small city schools from funding shortages in the future.

In addition to Niagara Falls, the suit included Jamestown, Kingston, Mount Vernon, Newburgh, Port Jervis, Poughkeepsie and Utica.