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Cuomo vetoes legislation to forgive Panama school fine

The third time wasn’t the charm for legislation seeking to forgive a state Education Department fine against the Panama Central School District.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has vetoed legislation that would have forgiven the remaining portion of a state Education Department fine levied against the Panama Central School District. The legislation, sponsored by Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, didn’t receive a single vote against it from the three Assembly committees to review the legislation and was unanimously approved on the floor of the Assembly as well. State Sen. Patrick Gallivan R-Elma, sponsored the legislation in the state Senate, where it was also unanimously approved out of committee and by the entire Senate.

The school district has owed as much as $4.9 million — the result of mismanaged paperwork regarding cost reports from a district capital project in 2005. Law dictated that schools who were given a state grant for capital projects file a cost report after completion. A previous administration reportedly failed to file the report by the given deadline, and New York state placed a penalty of about $4.9 million on Panama years later.

With previous support from former state Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, and state Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, the state has been routinely setting aside money each fiscal year to subsidize the penalty. Panama received $500,000 last year.

It isn’t the first time the governor has vetoed similar legislation.

Both houses of the state Legislature approved similar legislation in 2017 and 2018 only to see Cuomo issue vetoes of the legislation both times. Goodell sponsored the previous two bills in the state Assembly while former state Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, sponsored the legislation in the state Senate.

Six other school districts that have also had fines levied against them saw legislation forgiving their fine vetoed recently by Cuomo. The Huntington Union Free School District was fined by the state Education Department for allegedly failing to file final cost report reports before eventually proving that either the documents were sent or after they were found by state Department of Education staff members.

The Monticello Central School District was given a $1.9 million reduced aid penalty for final cost reports that weren’t filed on time. Legislation was passed forgiving the Mahopac Central School District for clerical errors that removed eight capital projects from eligibility for state aid. Another piece of legislation would have forgiven state building aid take-backs and penalties on late-filed final cost reports for eight capital improvement projects by the Islip Union Free School District.

Bills also passed both houses of the state Legislature forgiving clerical errors in transportation contracts by the Corning-Painted Post Area School District and the Fulton City School District that could cost the districts a portion of its state transportation aid. Fulton could lose $1.03 million in state transportation aid.

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