Districts plan to appeal FAIR decision

Linda Quinlan

A day after State Supreme Court Judge Kenneth Fisher ruled in favor of the county in two lawsuits that sought to reclaim money lost in Maggie Brooks' FAIR plan, there are plans for an appeal.

Jeff Crane, president of the Monroe County Council of School Superintendents, who is also the superintendent in West Irondequoit, said the school districts will challenge the decision.

"We knew there would be a chance this would happen, and that it (the schools' case) would probably go all three rounds, no matter who won," Crane said.

He said the case will next go to the Appellate Division, fourth department, in Rochester; then, if necessary, a "round three" in State Supreme Court in Albany.

Under the plan, which was adopted Sept. 26, the state will take over Monroe County’s $158 million annual Medicaid costs in return for a portion of the county’s sales tax revenue. The result will take about a $29 million bite out of the school districts’ budgets.

More than 20 school districts from around the county agreed to join forces in a lawsuit to sue under the provisions of the Morin-Ryan Agreement of 1985, which is meant to secure a set percentage of funding for sharing among school districts and municipalities in Monroe County. A group of 10 residents also sued, saying that the procedure in which County Executive Maggie Brooks went about having the FAIR Plan approved broke the open meetings law.

In both cases, Fisher ruled in favor of the county, which is expected to adopt its $1.01 billion budget tonight. If passed, the FAIR plan would go into effect under the 2008 budget and would require suburban school districts to give 50 percent of their sales tax revenue to the county to help pay for the county's portion of the state Medicaid bill. Since the school sales tax revenue would foot the bill for Medicaid, the county is off the hook in that regard since they no longer have to budget for Medicaid programs, said county budget director Bill Carpenter.

Crane said Judge Fisher made a "technical decision," ruling that the county's FAIR plan maintains the Morin-Ryan formula for sales tax distribution even though there's less money to distribute, "but I don't think he understood our (schools') argument."

The schools, Crane said, argued that the sales tax money "should not be diverted in that fashion," with Medicaid costs coming off the top.

Crane said the schools will also continue to lobby for a "community conversation" on the county budget gap and Medicaid costs.

"When we're involved in this type of litigation," he said, "there are no winners ... the community needs good, strong school districts and a good, strong county government."

Crane estimated that the appeal will cost each district an additional $1,500 – that's on top of $2,500 they each spent when Brooks sued towns and districts over doing intercept in the first place, and $2,000 the districts paid for the lawsuit that was decided yesterday.

"And that hurts," he said.

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