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Rochester schools superintendent says leaving was ‘one of the hardest decisions’ he's made

RCSD Superintendent Carmine Peluso explains the budget process at a public seminar on Tuesday.
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Rochester City School District Superintendent Carmine Peluso submitted his letter of resignation to the school board on Tuesday.

Superintendent Carmine Peluso said his decision to leave the Rochester City School District after more than a decade of service there was not easy.

“It's one of the hardest decisions I've had to do,” Peluso said during a news conference Wednesday. “There's a lot of commitment I've had to this district."

Peluso will be leaving the district at the end of the school year and will take on the role of Churchville-Chili school district’s superintendent starting July 1.

What’s next for the school reconfiguration plan?

Between now and the time Peluso leaves, he is expected to oversee development and adoption of a budget for the upcoming school year and put in place a cohesive plan for a school reconfiguration that will upend many students’ currently established schools. The school board approved the plan in October.

“We have a great team here, a committed team — executive cabinet, teachers, staff, Central Office — that are going to continue to do that work to make sure we get that done before I'm done,” Peluso said.

Rochester Board of Education President Cynthia Elliott said the search for a new superintendent will not interfere with those efforts.

Cynthia Elliott and Carmine Peluso on "Connections"
Evan Dawson
Cynthia Elliott and Carmine Peluso on "Connections with Evan Dawson" on Friday, September 15, 2023

“This board is not going to allow it to be a distraction,” Elliott said. “We are going to continue this work.”

Why now?

Peluso did not elaborate on what led him to make this decision mid-school year, nor did Elliott. He’d taken on the role a little over a year ago after serving as interim superintendent.

However, Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski said based on conversations he’s had with Peluso, his decision came down to the actions of two school board members who are not part of board leadership. Those actions included harassment, he said, but did not say from whom.

“They shouldn't treat teachers that way, and they shouldn't treat superintendents that way. And if they do, it should be no surprise that they will lose them,” Urbanski said. “Everyone has the right to stand up for their own dignity and I think that's what he did.”

When asked whether school board dynamics played a role in Peluso’s resignation, Elliott said they are working on being “more unified.”

“When new board members come on, they come in with their passion from the community,” Elliott said. “You have to adjust from being passionate and a community advocate to a person who governs."

In recent years, the city school district has seen a revolving door of superintendents who on average have lasted about two years.

Adam Urbanski has been the president of the Rochester Teachers Association for 43 years.
provided by Adam Urbanski
Adam Urbanski has been the president of the Rochester Teachers Association for 43 years.

In his resignation letter, Peluso said he’d continue to advocate for Rochester students regardless of whether or not he's working in the district.

“The education of students in this city is important for this whole community,” Peluso said. “It's on the shoulders of our community to make sure that our kids in this community and in the city are given what they deserve.”

How do the jobs compare?

Peluso will be moving to a much smaller district and taking a $10,000 pay cut.

Both salaries exceed the median pay nationally for a district of each size, according to The School Superintendents Association’s 2023-24 salary and benefits survey.

Tara Thomas with the organization said Peluso’s move is atypical.

“Usually you kind of, as you go through the superintendency, you go to bigger and bigger districts, just because it's a harder job, you need more experience,” said Thomas, who helped author the study. “So it is interesting … the pivot going the other way.”

He will depart after less than two years on the job and replace a retiring superintendent who spent a decade in the role. In the association’s survey, 63% had been in their current job for less than 6 years. Just 25% had been in the role upwards of 10 years. The Virginia-based group has been conducting the survey for more than a decade.

“We are seeing increased turnover in school districts in general, and that's something that we've seen kind of increase over the past few years,” said Thomas, speaking broadly and not with specific knowledge of RCSD.

One reason they’ve heard for the higher turnover is that the job is harder, she said. She added the higher turnover could relate to the spillover of politics and disinformation into the educational setting, creating “a far more toxic environment.” The association does not collect data on that question, however.

But, she continued: “There's a lot of different pieces that go into why we may see more turnover in certain districts. At the end of the day, it's really about having the partnership with your community, and with your school board. And if that's not there, then you probably don't feel like you can make the changes that you want to make, or that you need to make.”

Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.
Brian Sharp is WXXI's investigations and enterprise editor. He also reports on business and development in the area. He has been covering Rochester since 2005. His journalism career spans nearly three decades.