ALBANY — Legislation which could save the Panama Central School District $2 million in state fines has passed both State Legislature houses and is headed for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk.
The bill, sponsored by State Sen. George Borrello in the Senate, and Rep. Andy Goodell in the House, would forgive the Panama Central School District of $2 million in fines to the State Department of Education. The state issued a $4.9 million fine to the District for late final cost report on a 2005 capital project.
In 2012, the district, upon reviewing the state’s website, found that it still had an “open” project on file. This information was not made available to Panama when it was closing out its 2005 building project. However, in the eyes of the State Education Department, Panama Central School District neglected to file a final cost report for this building project within the established time frame and fined the district.
“It is incomprehensible why the Education Department would impose such a heavy penalty on a small rural school district and its taxpayers, essentially requiring that funds for learning be diverted to education department bureaucrats,” Senator Borrello said. “What is even more egregious is that this situation did not involve any intentional wrongdoing and the administrators who were with the district at that time, are no longer there. Yet, the school has been left with an enormous fine that is extremely disproportionate to the error.”
“Without the full forgiveness of this penalty imposed by State Education, the students who attend Panama and the district’s taxpayers will be unfairly punished for an administrative oversight made 15 years ago,” Borrello said. “Panama is a small school district. This penalty imposed by SED is offensive on many levels. Our small, rural school districts face a heavy burden of limited state aid and limited tax revenues.”
“No district should be put in this position, which is why I am also co-sponsoring Senate Bill 4209, which would forgive all state school districts who have been burdened with oppressive fines for building aid administrative reporting errors. In these difficult economic times, with schools potentially facing devastating state aid cuts, these fines are unjustifiable.”