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Hamburg Board looks to make up for withheld state funds

HAMBURG — Hamburg Central School District officials have until the end of August to find a way to cover a $472,000 gap in finances for the 2012 – 13 academic year.

According to the board, during a special meeting held on July 30, the funds are withheld monies from New York state, amounts that Hamburg school officials came across as having not been deposited into Hamburg’s district account.

Saying that no notification of this withholding had been given, district officials are left scrambling in search of ways to wipe out this remaining balance.

Director of Administrative Services Barbara Sporyz said that the process of closing out district expenditures for 2012 – 13 had been started, when a routine online check of expected deposited amounts from the state in mid-June revealed that Hamburg’s May and June payments were being withheld.

The check also showed that the withholding results from Hamburg’s Annual Professional Performance Review plan’s not passing in January, when the Hamburg Central Teachers Association rejected the district’s proposal.

Although a new APPR was subsequently passed by the HCTA followed by a May 6 letter from New York State Education Department Commissioner Dr. John King’s recognizing the approval, the $472,000 in state monies is still being withheld.

The amount was described by Sporyz as funds represented from the difference in state aid between the 2011 – 12 and 2012 – 13 academic years. She indicated that such monies for the district would be at risk if the APPR was not in place, a scenario that eventually was brought to Hamburg, New York City and two other districts across the state.

A subsequent lawsuit regarding lost funding was conducted by New York City school officials and a decision from the suit indicated that the sanctioned monies would be restored to NYC, Hamburg and the other two districts.

The restoration decision was appealed by state officials, and, although described as being unlikely to be upheld or having “staying power,” the withheld amounts in Hamburg remain. “Imagine our surprise when we went to the state education site ... and it said [$472,000 in funding, related to APPR] was being withheld,” said Sporyz, who added that eventual restoration of such monies, even after appeal, is unlikely, because of required special legislation and its process delay.

Sporyz said the withheld state aid amounts total “in the millions” in New York City, adversely affecting that immense district. She added that no emails, letters or other communication indicating the removal of state monies had been conveyed to Hamburg officials.

Dr. Richard Jetter, who serves as the district’s interim superintendent as well as assistant superintendent of human resources and technology, described the district’s approved APPR as a plan encompassing two years, through 2014, and pointed out the importance of realizing the exact impact of withheld state funds.

Jetter added that Aug. 30 is the deadline for the district’s certified plan to be completed, for this school year.

Further discussion with Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services officials is being conducted, to determine what the district can do to avoid losing additional state funding, according to Jetter.

Other Hamburg officials said that the district should examine the possibility of using fund balance monies, the sufficiency of which is not known, to cancel the $472,000 balance. Jetter said that determining if the district can eliminate the $472,000 gap is paramount in its moving forward into 2013 – 14.

Board Member Holly Balaya questioned how state education officials can legally withhold payments to Hamburg, while also not offering correspondence to the district.

Also during the meeting, it was announced that District Superintendent of Erie 1 BOCES Donald Ogilvie will conduct a presentation describing how a search is conducted in finding an eventual, permanent superintendent.

Steven Achramovitch had previously announced Aug. 9 as his retirement as superintendent, but district officials subsequently placed Achramovitch on administrative leave until his retirement commences. Jetter was later selected as interim superintendent.

Board Member Thomas Flynn III joked that Hamburg is in “a horse race” with the Frontier School District for a permanent superintendent, as Frontier School Chief James Bodziak is slated to retire on Sept. 9. Paul Hashem was appointed the interim superintendent at Frontier, effective Aug. 26.

Hamburg School Board President David Yoviene said that district officials are in no immediate hurry to appoint a permanent superintendent.

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