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A state monitor and the teachers union president criticize the upcoming Rochester schools budget

City Newspaper

Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Association, said the most recent budget disputes in the city school district are part of a years-long pattern of administrative mismanagement.

“I think the district's budget development process system is in a freefall. And they either don't know what they're doing, or they're playing games with budgeting,” Urbanski said on Monday.

State Monitor Shelley Jallow recently criticized the district over a budget that she said is not transparent nor responsible.

In a litany of grievances, Jallow outlined areas where the budget falls short, including a lack of provisions to phase out outdated curriculum among other shortcomings.

“The budget maintains hundreds of vacant or frozen positions... positions, I should say, that are not needed and not serving students' needs. This is completely irresponsible from a financial and educational sense,” Jallow said in a presentation to the district’s Board of Education on Thursday.

“It is alarming and should signal the need for dramatic change that in a good fiscal year, with unprecedented state and federal monies available to the district, the budget still relies on a $30 million appropriated fund balance.”

Chief Financial Officer Carleen Pierce later explained that due to a revenue shortfall, the district would actually need $36 million to balance the budget. She called Jallow’s remarks incredibly humbling and sobering and that her team was still working on improving the budget book.

“We knew the budget was not in the state it needed to be,” Pierce said on Thursday. “We were fully aware that it was a draft budget. We were fully aware of the comments made by the state as well as by our commissioners.”

Pierce said the district would be meeting with the city of Rochester on Tuesday to discuss longer-term financial plans.

When the budget is made public on April 7, Urbanski expects the union will refer it to a financial expert at the New York State United Teachers union for an independent review.

“We don't have sufficient confidence in how they construct the budget to take it on their word. One of our responsibilities is to serve as a system of checks and balances,” he said.

He said he’d like to see funds go to student support services like counselors and social workers at schools.

A spokesperson with the district said on Monday that it is “all hands on deck” as the Chief Financial Officer and others work to redesign the budget by next Thursday.

Noelle E. C. Evans is an education reporter/producer with a background in documentary filmmaking and education.