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Rochester school board passes ‘22-23 school year budget by one vote

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RCSD
RCSD School Board President Cynthia Elliot breaks the 3-3 tie to pass the district's budget for the upcoming school year.

In a narrow vote, the Rochester City School Board Tuesday night passed the district’s budget of just under $1 billion for the next school year. The final vote was 4 to 3 in favor.

Board president Cynthia Elliot broke a 3-3 tie with her vote. She said it was not a good budget but she felt compelled to adopt it.

“My vote would be yes,” Elliot said. “But it is yes only because we've got to pass it. I don't know what else to do. We've got to pass the budget. This district has to be about the business of educating our kids.”

Elliot said she hopes the board and district officials can do better in the next budget season.

Board members Ricardo Adams and James Patterson said their votes in favor of the budget is on the condition that there are amendments to it in the coming months.

Among the emphatic naysayers was board member Amy Maloy, who said she couldn’t call the binders of documents the board was voting on a “budget.”

“We have just experienced possibly the most disorganized and non-transparent budget process in the history of this district,” she said.

Maloy had voted “no” on last year’s budget as well.

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School Board Commissioner Camille Simmons votes "no" on the 2022-23 school year budget.

Board member Camille Simmons, who is one of the newest members of the school board, was also not in favor of passing the budget because so much of the budget process was “evasive, convoluted and confusing.”

“We need to make sure that our children get everything they deserve,” Simmons said. “I cannot emphatically say that this is an aligned fiscally or academically sound budget. Our children, our community, they're not chess pieces to be played with."

State monitor Shelley Jallow has been present throughout the budget process. She says the current budget is an improvement from the draft budget that was submitted a month ago. However, she still has concerns.

“To sit here and say that I'm fully satisfied, I don't think anybody's fully satisfied with the alignment of this budget to an academic and financial plan,” Jallow said ahead of the vote. “So, does it meet the minimum requirement? Yes, it does. Is it what I'd like to see? No, it's not.”

Before the budget vote, Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small gave a presentation of budget highlights including over 30 different summer school programs and an additional $3 million in food services.

Adams, who voted to pass the budget, said he’d rather see less funding go to summer schools that have generally not had significant enrollment in the past.

Vice President Beatriz LeBron, who voted “no” on the budget, called the superintendent’s presentation “gaslighting” since she cannot see details of those highlights in the budget

“I have not been able to satisfactorily see any evidence that this budget is technically balanced,” LeBron said.

LeBron said that she and Elliot had learned through meetings with district administrators that part of the reason the budget process had been riddled with issues was that some departments did not have up-to-date budgets of their own.

“That literally started and snowballed into more issues that we encountered,” she said.

Next, the budget will be sent to City Council for review later this week. The school board and city council will meet on May 31 for a budget hearing, and city council members are expected to vote on the budget June 14.