"§3813": Getting Paid by School Districts in New York

Bill Leicht, President, Simeht Ltd

In 1997 around Thanksgiving Mayor Rudolph Giuliani of New York City announced that he would deal with escalating school violence by assigning 1000 new School Safety Officers. He directed the Division of School Safety to select, train and then get them into schools by the beginning of 1998.

The chief consultant for this emergency called me right after Christmas into a meeting with his boss, the Director of the Training Academy. In that meeting the Chief asked me whether I would be willing and able to train his trainers, a group of a dozen Sergeants, as conflict resolution facilitators, who in turn could train the first group of 500 cadets by the middle of January 1998. I agreed to do the job. I also suggested that the training should prepare officers for "weaponless defense" skills training in their job of keeping schools safe and effective. He agreed with that concept and asked me to prepare to train the cadre of training Sergeants for three and one half days in the second week of January after which they would conduct a mass training of cadets under the chief consultant and myself.

I asked for a contract. The Chief responded that the pressing emergency precluded processing a contract. He assured me that he would submit papers and the Division would promptly pay my invoices. I asked for at least a letter of commitment and again heard that time was too short. Having worked previously for the Division under similar conditions and been paid promptly I decided to take a chance, especially as the need for new Safety Officers was urgent and important.

By the end of the third week of January those dozen Sergeants and myself trained almost 400 new cadets in the basics of conflict resolution and prepared them to link their new verbal skills with corresponding physical skills of weaponless defense. The Chief, his lead consultant and the training sergeants were all delighted with the results. Under a stringent schedule they had performed the near miracle which the Mayor had demanded. When the Chief brought me in with my first invoices to the financial office of the Division, its chief officer told me that since I already had a vendor number, paying them would-be "a piece of cake;" I could expect a check in a very few weeks.

During the next six months the Division requested that I train the Sergeants further as well as prepare training materials and a prototype manual. I documented each request on my side with a letter of acceptance; and upon completing the training or work I submitted an invoice further documenting what had been done. Although I had not expect to be paid very promptly (since this work was for the City of New York), I began to get worried after eight weeks when I could not even find out the status of their payment requests nor get a purchase order number. Had I known of Section 3813 of the Education Law of the State of New York I would have been much more worried.

Title 5, Article 77, Section 3813 states: "S 3813.Presentation of claims against the governing body of any school district or certain state supported schools. 1. No action or special proceeding… shall be prosecuted or maintained against any school district, board of education, board of cooperative educational services, school … or any officer of a school district, board of education, board of cooperative educational services, or school … unless it shall appear… that a written verified claim upon which such action or special proceeding is founded was presented to the governing body of said district or school within three months after the accrual of such claim [emphasis added], and that the officer or body having the power to adjust or pay said claim has neglected or refused to make an adjustment or payment thereof for thirty days after such presentment."

In fact the Division had asked me not to submit a claim but to be patient while my invoices were processed, and then to wait until the Exceptions Committee of the Board of Education acted on my invoices; and I waited some more while my calls were not returned. Not wishing to damage the relationship, I waited. And I waited. Then in November 1998 the media announced that the Division of School Safety was to be transferred shortly to the N. Y. P. D.

I hastily called and wrote Board of Education officials demanding that my invoices be paid. After expressions of sympathy from some of these officials and further delays I finally reached the chief counsel to the Board of Education who told me that I now needed to submit a formal claim to the Comptroller of the City of New York and also informed me that, if I did not receive satisfaction on my claim in 90 days, I would be free to sue.

In fact I received no response to my claim and instituted a suit in Civil Court. A year later after more delays my suit was dismissed under Section 3813 on a motion by the Corporation Counsel of the City of New York. In other words, although I had followed the explicit instructions of officials of the Board of Education, because I had not submitted a claim within three months after initial invoicing, my suit was deemed untimely.

Fortunately, the chief investigator of the N.Y.C. Comptroller's office, after again looking into the matter (Council Member, Margarita López had called), decided that my claim was indeed "illegal but equitable." So after trying to collect for 2˝ years and submitting five years of tax returns, Simeht received payment for the full amount of its invoices. Of course, I received no compensation for my trouble nor for the interest paid on the funds so long delayed.

My experience recommends not only that agencies perform work exclusively under a written payment order (including notification of encumbrance of funds), but also that they submit formal claims on any amounts owing ten weeks after invoicing! Making such claims might seem a nuisance, but are the only way of assuring that invoices to any "school district" in New York actually will be paid.