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Wednesday, December 11, 2019

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Gov. Cuomo says yes to Roscoe bill, no to Monticello

Nov 11, 2019

By Joseph Abraham - co-editor

SULLIVAN COUNTY -- It was recently a bittersweet day in the region as Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation forgiving a $1.1 million building aid penalty incurred by the Roscoe Central School District, and vetoed a similar bill that would have forgiven the Monticello Central School District.
“From the day I took office, I have been working to get amnesty from building aid penalties imposed for both the Roscoe and Monticello school districts, which were extreme,” NYS Senator Jen Metzger said. “While this burdensome policy has since been changed, the penalties imposed before the policy change have remained in place at the expense of taxpayers and the school children of these districts.”
Roscoe's $1.1 million building aid penalty stemmed from two capital repair projects the district approved nearly a decade ago.
The district successfully pursued legal action against the contractors and the design professionals when they failed to adequately complete the projects.
Delays coupled with the bankruptcy of the contractor's bonding company resulted in an inability to determine precise project costs for a number of years, during which the district failed to make a necessary filing request for waiver with the State Education Department.
New York State Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther and former State Senator John Bonacic had sponsored a bill in 2018 to forgive those penalties, but it was then vetoed by Gov. Cuomo.
This year, Gunther and Metzger reintroduced the bill and it was passed by the State Senate and Assembly, and signed by Gov. Cuomo on Friday.
Roscoe's penalty was spread out over ten years, and went into effect in June when the district lost $145,000 in aid.
Had the bill not been signed, Roscoe CSD would have stood to miss out on a little over $100,000 a year for the next nine years.
“The students, faculty and entire RCS community thank Governor Cuomo for signing the Building Aid Amnesty Bill for the Roscoe Central School District,” said John Evans, Shared Superintendent of the Downsville, Livingston Manor and Roscoe Central School Districts. “We cannot thank Senator Metzger and Assemblywoman Gunther enough for not only sponsoring the bill but for the neverending fight on our behalf to get this bill signed by the Governor. With the passage of this legislation a tremendous financial burden has been lifted from the school district.”
“I also want to express my sincere thanks to the students, parents, staff and community members that called and sent letters to the Governor's office in support of the passage bill,” Evans continued. “All your efforts paid off so thank you, this was truly a community effort.”
Metzger praised the Roscoe CSD for becoming a model for shared services among school districts that works to keep their operating expenses low while providing quality educational programming to the students they serve, and both she and Gunther were pleased with the governor's decision to forgive the district, citing the relief it will bring to already overburdened taxpayers.
However, they both disagreed with the Monticello decision.
“I am disappointed that our Monticello legislation was not signed,” Gunther said. “This veto will create an increased burden on our Monticello School District taxpayers. I will continue to fight for a reconsideration of this veto.”
Noting that over 70 percent of Monticello students qualify for free and reduced lunch, Metzger said, “This is a district that cannot afford to give up a single dollar in these penalties.”
Metzger added that she will continue working to get full amnesty for the Monticello Central School District in the upcoming legislative session.
The Monticello CSD received partial amnesty back in 2012, but still owed $1.9 million in penalties spread out over a number of years.
District officials are also frustrated by the governor's decision.
“It's really disappointing. We don't understand the governor's reasons at this point,” said Dr. William Silver, Monticello's Interim Superintendent of Schools. “Senator Metzger and Assemblywoman Gunther have been very supportive. We'll have to figure out what options we have, if any, moving forward.”

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