by Randy Pellis
FULTON, April 10, 2019 — A missing sheet of paper could cost the Fulton school district $1 million, and though forgiveness of the fine appears to be off the table for now, enforcement of it is not apparent either.
Members of the Fulton school board spent considerable time at Tuesday night’s meeting debating the million-dollar question that has been hanging over the district for almost a year-and-a-half with most members supporting a wait-and-see approach rather than an aggressive one.
According to Fulton Superintendent Brian Pulvino, a state regulation allowed the state to fine the district after determining that, although all other required contractual procedures were followed by the school board to a t, no actual signed contract between the district and Golden Sun Bus Service could be found for bus services provided in 2016, the year before Pulvino became superintendent.
And though officially notified of the fine a year-and-a-half ago, the district has not been required to pay any of it so far. And therein lies the school board’s quandary.
Forgiveness of the fine was expected to be part of this year’s state budget. It was part of that document until Gov. Andrew Cuomo pulled it from consideration with no explanation, according to Pulvino. Forgiveness could still be a future possibility. The majority of the school board, therefore, favors treading lightly for now.
Board member David Cordone argued vigorously for a more aggressive approach. “We’re working with our legislators, but their influence is limited,” he said. “They are Republican dominated by a Democratic legislature and governor. So, I think our communication needs to be from this community directly to the governor’s office.”
Board President Mrs. Robbin Griffin urged caution. “We need to be careful because we don’t have a formal notice (to pay),” she said.
Mr. Cordone replied, “We’ve played nice in the sandbox to this point. We’ve done that for two budget processes; we’ve done that for the stand-alone resolution, all of which the governor has vetoed. And I’m just saying that we’re hanging our hopes a lot on our legislators, who can’t do more than they’ve done. I think the community has a right to know what’s in the balance, what’s at stake. And they should have the opportunity to communicate with their governor on it. My point is we need to be more pro-active than we’ve been. Our community needs to be more aware. I don’t think they’re aware of the issue.”
Board member Mrs. Fallon Cooper offered her view. “I think we’ve discussed this at length,” she said, “and I think the agreement with the majority (of the board) was as soon as we see notice (to pay) is the time to become more aggressive,” to which Mr.
Cordone replied, “It may be too late at that point.”
Mrs. Cooper responded, “Either way, we don’t know. We certainly can go to the community and push and be aggressive, but it may be for nothing.”
Asked by Mr. Cordone exactly what a notice from the state would entail, Superintendent Pulvino responded, “We would get a notice indicating they (the state) would be retaining state aid over a series of years. They generally don’t take it in one lump sum. They might do it over five years or 10 years.”
Pulvino has asked that legislation be introduced requiring the state to give at least two advance notices to a district before declaring it has violated regulations and will be fined. Presently, the state gives no advance warning.
Pulvino also reiterated, as did Mrs. Griffin, the original notification the district received in November 2017 said the district “may be garnished.”
As the district has not so far received any further notice their funds or aid will be garnished, a lot of hope has been placed on the word “may.”
And though the rest of the board expressed faith in that hope and remains committed to waiting longer before taking a more aggressive stance, Mr. Cordone was not ready to rely on that hope alone “because,” he said, “at the end of the day, if we have to find a way to cover a million dollars over time, that’s a lot.”