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Warren: Put state RCSD takeover on the ballot

Spectrum News

Mayor Lovely Warren has stepped up her push for a state takeover of the Rochester City School District. She wants city residents to vote on the issue.

At a press conference at City Hall Friday morning, Warren said she’s asking City Council to put the issue on the ballot in the November election. She wants the state to remove the Rochester school board and operate the district for at least five years, “to allow parents, teachers, and students to create a more effective governance model for the RCSD.”

City Council will be asked to vote at its July meeting on her request for a referendum.  Warren has strong support among the majority of City Council members, so it’s likely that Council will agree to her request. 

The outcome of a referendum wouldn’t be binding, though; only the state Legislature can remove the school board. The teachers union, the school board, and local education activists are adamantly opposed to a takeover, as is State Assembly member Harry Bronson.

Assemblyman Harry Bronson claims that Warren is misleading voters.

“It suggests that somehow by having this vote that it will have the effect of some change and indeed it will not," Bronson told reporters.

Bronson says he’s working on legislation to narrow the school board’s powers without removing it. The Democrat says the focus should be on addressing the recommendations in state appointed distinguished educator Jaime Aquino’s report. 

Bronson hopes to get his bill to the floor before the session ends later this month.

In a video statement released shortly after Warren's press conference, Rochester Chamber of Commerce President Bob Duffy thanked Warren for her effort and said, "The Chamber of Commerce stands firmly behind you."

On the heels of critical reports about the district's operations, Warren and some others had been urging the state to change the governance of the Rochester School District. State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and local Regents Wade Norwood and T. Andrew Brown had publicly chastised the school board and district officials.

Brown recently outlined a possible governance change that would have included removal of the school board, with the state operating the district for up to five years. But the state teachers union and others immediately pushed back on that that proposal, and sources say Elia and the Regents backed off, convinced that the state Legislature would not approve it.

They were said to be seeking a softer plan for the district, but so far, none has surfaced. And earlier this week, the school board sent Elia a revised reform plan, pledging to correct its problems. Elia has yet not publicly responded to that plan.

Towler is editor of CITY Newspaper. WXXI reporter James Brown also contributed to this story.