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RCSD union negotiations hit snag, more layoffs likely at end of school year

James Brown

Roughly 13 of the more than 150 teachers who received layoff notices from the Rochester City School District earlier this month have been hired back. 

“Some teachers got layoff notices in the morning and then a recall notice in the afternoon,” said Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Association union

He said this happened to fill positions where the district had shortages or requirements like English as a second language or special education. 

The layoffs are being proposed because of an estimated $65 million budget shortfall.

To save some or all of the teaching positions, the union and district Superintendent Terry Dade have been negotiating in recent weeks. In a statement Tuesday, Dade said it was unlikely that the district and union would come to an agreement before the Board of Education votes on the layoffs this week.  

"Given the time remaining before the Thursday Board of Education vote," Dade said, "It is doubtful that any concessions will be finalized prior to that time. I am willing to continue discussions as frequently as necessary between now and Thursday.”

Urbanski said the union needs to follow its own protocols, including counting votes and considering suggestions from its rank-and-file members, who he said are split on the matter. 

Urbanski said the union would consider reasonable cuts like freezing stipends for professional development. But he said Dade requested deep concessions like salary and health care givebacks in order to save some jobs -- for now, anyway. During negotiations, Urbanski said, Dade told him that there will likely be another round of layoffs at the end of the year.

He also said the union is concerned that the Board of Education is considering postponing layoffs only 

Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski
Credit WXXI Photo
Adam Urbanski

until late January instead of the end of the school year. He called the upcoming deadline of Thursday to make this decision “arbitrary.” And if the board opts to approve the layoffs, Urbanski said he will not consider further concessions. 

Dade said last week that he would not comment on the specifics of negotiations with the district’s unions.

Postponing the layoffs until January, when the state legislature is back in session, would open the door for additional state aid. Urbanski thinks Dade should wait for that. 

But Dade said that delay would cost the district more than $1 million.

Seeking more state aid is a given, he said, even if the board approves the layoff plan. Dade said he’ll still need to lobby for more than $20 million and hope to bridge the remaining gap with cost controls and by cutting or reducing programs. 

Credit Provided / Rochester City School District
Rochester City School District

It would take about $40 million in additional aid -- plus cost controls and program cuts -- to keep the teachers employed for the full year and bridge the entire budget gap, he said.

Leaders from national and statewide teachers unions say they plan to attend Thursday night’s board meeting, including American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten: 

"Mid-year cuts staffing cuts are harmful to students and staff," Weingarten said in a statement. "At best. it’s a Band-Aid, masking a very deep wound. At worse, they injure students' prospects forever. They disrupt student learning and leave hardworking educators scrambling to support their own families. It’s why they are almost never done, even in the worst of recessions."

Weingarten said the cuts could have been prevented if the district and union worked together "to find meaningful, workable solutions to the issues facing the public schools, instead of balancing the city budget on the backs of vulnerable students and the people in the classroom every day supporting them."

She said they still could be averted by working with the state legislature and the governor.

The Board of Education's meeting on Thursday has been moved up an hour to 5:30 p.m. Dozens of speakers have already signed up to be heard, and protests are planned outside the Central Office Building at 131 W. Broad St.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on Wednesday afternoon re-tweeted a tweet from WXXI News about Monday's protest by students opposed to staff cuts: 

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