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State-supported schools escape scrutiny

   As a taxpayer, you're helping to fund St. Mary's School for the Deaf in Buffalo, but you aren't allowed to attend any of their board meetings, or to look at any of their financial books.

   But since the school is a non-profit organization, St. Mary's, like many similarly classified schools in New York State, is required to file annual financial statements with the IRS.

   By looking at those reports, called 990s, The Buffalo News found that St. Mary's has, in the past, done business with firms owned by or associated with its board members. So has the Rochester School for the Deaf.

   The 990s also showed that  several of these publicly funded, privately run schools have lots of private money, some held in stock, and some used for lobbying or political efforts.

   Not all of these 11 schools for the blind, deaf and disabled that New York helps fund filed financial reports. Four claim they don't have to file the reports because they are affiliated with the Catholic Church. Since they accept public money, they say they don't provide any religious education, or use their buildings for religious purposes. But at the time time, they claim that, because of their religious affiliation, they don't have to file financial reports with the IRS.

-- Susan Schulman and Mary B. Pasciak


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