CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Cheektowaga-Maryvale Union Free School District‘s Board of Education is looking for compensation following the influx of more than 70 asylum-seeking students prior to the start of the school year.
In a letter addressed to Erie County Legislator James Malczewaki (District 10), the Board shared their willingness to make migrant children feel at home in the district, but noted the costs incurred by the sudden additional students.
Malczewaki’s district includes West Seneca, Elma, Marilla, Aurora, Wales, Colden and Holland.
The letter addressed to him says the U.S. and New York State governments have placed local communities and school districts “in an unsustainable situation,” but a heavy portion of blame was placed on New York City.
“The City of New York, overwhelmed by proclaiming itself a sanctuary city for asylum seekers, sent many of those families all across New York State to other communities without warning,” a resolution by the Board of Education says.
According to the Board, the school district registered 76 asylum-seeking students after receiving no advance notice of their arrival from NYC. This has come with a financial cost to residents, whose taxes help fund the district.
“Municipalities such as Town of Cheektowaga, Erie County and the Cheektowaga-Maryvale School District should not be forced to expend their own resources because of New York City’s choices,” the resolution says.
With their letter, the Board of Education is calling on NYC, the state and the federal government to reimburse the district for all expenditures necessary to support the asylum-seeking students.
The resolution calling on these entities for reimbursement was approved by the board on Oct. 23.
“As the resolution states, we need full reimbursement for costs associated with the asylum-seeking students in our district so that we can both serve those students and maintain the
programs and services we have in place for all of our students,” Board President James McDermott wrote in the letter to Legislator Malczewaki.
It was this past June when dozens of asylum seekers arrived in Cheektowaga from NYC, with hundreds more arriving later in Erie County. Some local leaders, including County Executive Mark Poloncarz, have embraced them with open arms.
But the arrival of these migrants was met with controversy, with a number of other local leaders critiquing the decision to bring asylum seekers here, especially in light of arrests that took place over the summer.
“The diversity of our community is one of its greatest attributes,” Poloncarz said this past June. “Buffalo and Erie County are welcoming communities to all, and we will continue to do the same for any person seeking refuge from a despotic or violent homeland.”
Unlike a number of other counties, Poloncarz did not issue a state of emergency in response to the end of Title 42, which a report from ‘The Hill’ describes as a “pandemic-era policy [that] allowed border officials to quickly expel migrants they encountered, blocking them from seeking asylum.”
The Erie County Legislature Republican Caucus has criticized Poloncarz over the migrant issue, saying he “invited this problem to Erie County.” The caucus added in August, “Mark Poloncarz should be ashamed for making our community less safe, for ridiculing those who didn’t trust that the system in place was working, for trusting that New York City and Albany had our best interests at heart.”
Peter Anderson, who serves as Press Secretary to the County Executive, says Deputy County Executive Lisa Chimera “has had weekly meetings with the superintendents, the resettlement agencies, and DocGo to ensure that there are opportunities to collaborate, problem solve, and support our local school districts.”
“We have appreciated that the Cheektowaga-Maryvale School District and the Sweet Home School Districts have embraced these students and has welcomed them,” Anderson said.
“There has been an ongoing effort to secure additional funding for schools,” he continues. “The State Education Department has announced additional Title 3 funds and has requested feedback from each district impacted by this situation. New York City has also committed to reimbursing our local school districts for additional costs associated with educating these students. Ongoing discussions are planned as we continue to advocate for our schools.”
The state itself has pointed fingers at NYC’s handling of the crisis, too. This past August, legal counsel representing Gov. Kathy Hochul essentially said that the city could have done better, citing the help Mayor Eric Adams has received from New York State and the strain the city has put on state resources.
“The City has not made timely requests for regulatory changes, has not always promptly shared necessary information with the State, has not implemented programs in a timely manner, and has not consulted the State before taking certain actions,” an excerpt from the counsel’s letter to NYC’s 81st Corporation Counsel reads.
And at the federal level, there have been bipartisan calls for action.
NY-23 Congressman and former New York Republican State Committee Chairman Nick Langworthy said “This crisis is a result of President Biden’s dangerous open border policies and the sanctuary state policies of Albany Democrats” while NY-26 Congressman Brian Higgins, a Democrat, said “The federal government has to step up and take greater responsibility. The current situation places an unfair burden on communities.”
Hochul, the most powerful voice in New York State, went on to say it was “past time” for President Joe Biden to take action on the situation.
“The reality is, we’ve managed thus far without substantive support from Washington, despite the fact that this is a nation and inherently a federal issue,” Hochul said in August, after DocGo said 100,000 migrants had come to NYC.
Last month, the Town of Cheektowaga settled in a legal battle pertaining to the asylum seekers staying in hotels on Genesee Street. They are allowed to stay there until the end of 2024, but not after.
The Erie County Legislature is set to meet again on Nov. 16. Later that day, a public hearing on the proposed 2024 county budget will take place. The following Monday, Nov. 20, Maryvale’s Board of Education is scheduled to meet again.