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Rochester school board adopts budget for 2023-24 school year

The Rochester City School Board approved to adopt the 2023-2024 school year budget on Tuesday.

The budget vote among school board members was six in favor and one abstention. While Commissioner Ricardo Adams voiced his approval of the budget, he was not present for the official vote.

Adams said early in the meeting that he would have to excuse himself due to a medical issue and was escorted out of the room.

The total proposed budget, including American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, is just over $1 billion.

Federal ARPA funding accounts for $106 million of the adopted budget and will expire at the end of next school year, meaning that this budget season is the last chance that the school district has to put those dollars to use.

“This will be a critical year in terms of the information that you will see appearing in a book and how it materializes day-to-day in the work and in the decisions that the district administration makes on behalf of children.” State Monitor Shelley Jallow said.

In the three-year period that ARPA funds have been available, the greatest amounts have been allocated to academics and instruction, districtwide infrastructure, and student health & safety. It’s worth noting that the amount designated in the current budget for “student health & safety, reopening, and COVID response" is roughly six to seven times more than it was in the previous two years.

School board president Cynthia Elliott said that in a letter, NY state Education Commissioner Betty Rosa requested, in part, that the district prepare a different budget book for the next budget season than the current format, which is an iteration of last year’s.

That request is something Children’s Agenda’s education policy director Eamonn Scanlon also voiced to commissioners ahead of the vote.

“Transparency will be crucial going into the 24-25 budget season when some tough decisions will have to be made,” Scanlon said.

Those decisions will likely include school closures, and balancing a budget absent of federal stimulus funds and with less state aid.

For now, Scanlon said the district has a unique opportunity to fortify social-emotional resources for students, like the conflict-resolution training through the RocRestorative program, by employing more facilitators — including bilingual coaches. He said mental healthcare options could also be enhanced on school campuses with telehealth and satellite clinics.

“In the long term, these efforts will be mostly sustained by billing providers through Medicaid and other insurance,” he said. “Now is the time to enact these changes when the district is flush with revenue.”

Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.