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RCSD finance chief resigns, district considers layoffs to bridge budget gap

Credit Rochester City School District

Rochester City School Superintendent Terry Dade on Tuesday night revealed his first steps in bridging the district’s budget gap and he’ll have to accomplish that with a new chief finance officer.

The district's chief financial officer, Everton Sewell, resigned Tuesday. Sewell told district leaders that its budget was balanced in May -- when it wasn’t. This decision caused an uproar over the last month -- with calls for investigations, resignations, a state takeover of the district’s checkbook, and even mayoral control.

It also means Superintendent Terry Dade is forced to bridge a $30 million budget gap, without a CFO or a budget director. Dade said he’s relying on help from what’s left of its financial team, auditors at Freed Maxick (who found the shortfall), and others.

“I’m extremely blessed to have folks from around the state work with me and my team to really dig into our budget numbers, our projections and the like,” said Dade. “I’m committed to looking at every single possibility that is out there to decrease this budget deficit before I look at laying off any staff members at RCSD.”

Dade Audit Committee Mtg. PPT. 10.8.2019 by WXXI News on Scribd

To fill the Rochester City School District’s $30 million budget gap,  Dade instituted a soft hiring freeze last week. 

In a presentation Tuesday night, he announced a number of short term options for bridging the gap including combining classrooms, waiting to move students and staff until summer, and cutting staff which he says could save $10 million. 

As for which positions he'll cut first, Dade said that was up to the board of education. He also said that a number of the potential layoffs were unfilled positions. As of October 9th, the district has 31 positionslisted on their website. The website also lists shortages in the following areas: Science, Special Education 7-12, Bilingual - all certification areas, Technology, Special Education -Speech/Hearing, Psychologist,  Spanish, and ESOL. 

Dade said the district added more than a thousand employees in the last four years as enrollment continues to decline -- 25 percent over the last 17 years. Much of that growth was laid at the feet of former Superintendent Barbara Deane Williams who resigned in January. Dade said he hasn’t spoken to Williams and will not unless it’s necessary.

The superintendent also made it clear that a few people within the district knew about the shortfall.

“There’s flags that should have been raised well before now regarding our fund balance, expenditures and overspending for the last school year.”

Commissioner Beatriz Lebron stopped short of identifying those staff members but said there were "many" of them.

“When we do go into executive (session) there are lots of people I want to have conversations about because this is not just a one person ordeal,” said Lebron. 

Dade said that those who knew will be held accountable internally. 

James Brown is a reporter with WXXI News. James previously spent a decade in marketing communications, while freelance writing for CITY Newspaper. While at CITY, his reporting focused primarily on arts and entertainment.