Another Voice: Protect today’s students by sparing districts full burden of CVA settlements

Buffalo News [Buffalo NY]

September 11, 2023

By Bill Conrad

As a former teacher, I read the Aug. 9 News’ Editorial Board opinion, “Protect today’s students from the CVA fallout,” with great interest.

I am also the co-sponsor of a pending bill that seeks to establish a $200 million state fund in support of school districts facing Child Victims Act lawsuit settlement costs.

As the News’ editors rightly insisted, that pain is not our present-day children’s to bear. But I disagree with their contention that it’s too soon to establish a mitigation fund, or that such an action would effectively let insurance companies “off the hook.”

First, the timing of the alleged incidents is key. Insurance policies held in the ‘70s and ‘80s are untraceable or moot. Records are gone; carriers are extinct. We know this because forensic accountants have determined as much.

A fund wouldn’t cover settlements in their entirety but would help offset the burden on districts and local taxpayers. The state opened the door for Child Victims Act suits. It also regulates districts’ bonding, limits their savings, and caps property tax increases. I consider the creation of a settlement fund the proactive, responsive approach, and I much prefer it over yet another unfunded mandate.

It’s important to note that the bipartisan bill includes a provision requiring districts to, in “good faith,” exhaust all options for remuneration by insurance carriers before gaining access to the fund. Barring this, the best way we can prepare is to set aside money to shrink the financial gaps forced by CVA settlements. And make no mistake, these settlements are owed to the plaintiffs. Their suffering can’t be undone. It must be compensated.

But we cannot in good conscience compel districts to incur huge debts or to incinerate reserves that are maintained to protect the local taxpayers. And we cannot expect our kids to endure cuts to vital programs and services.

Another proposed solution – to rely on Foundation Aid – is flawed. Foundation Aid is distributed by a formula that’s meant to deliver proportionately more money to needier schools. Propping up one district’s aid for the purpose of covering settlement costs would only shrink other districts’ pieces of the pie. In the end, kids will be shortchanged.

There is no truly adequate remedy for the abuse that occurred in the past. But we can avoid compounding the pain by providing assistance – and the time for that is now.