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Gantt calls for mayoral control of Rochester city schools

Assemblyman David Gantt of the 137th district.
Assemblyman David Gantt of the 137th district.

Longtime Assemblyman David Gantt says the Rochester City School District is “failing” students and he wants to change that.

The Rochester Democrat has two bills in conference to change how the district is managed. One would give more control to the superintendent and the other would give the mayor control of the district. Gantt said that system has improved New York City schools, and he believes Rochester should try it.

“Our kids are failing,” Gantt said. “Something has to change. That’s why I believe in mayoral control.”

Gantt’s comments follow recent criticisms of the district’s management from Distinguished Educator Jamie Aquino,School Board Commissioner Liz Hallmark, Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski andformer superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams.

“I suggest that we try something different than we are now doing,” Gantt said. “And that’s what I intend to do.”

But Board of Education President Van White said there have been mixed results with mayoral control around the country.

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“I think the verdict is out in terms of research as to whether that form of governance that is mayoral control actually produces the results that some tout,” White said.

White pointed to Chicago as a district where the results of mayoral control were mixed. He said the teachers strike there, which was resolved in December, was one result of the model.

White said the Rochester district is on the right track and he anticipates graduation rates will increase several percentage points this year, from last year’s 53.5 percent to above 60 percent.

“Now some might say 60 percent, that’s not a lot,” he said. “But if you look at from where we came when I got sworn in, the four-year graduation rate was 39 percent.”

White said the district is using a predictive analysis system to tell which students are trending toward graduation. He said this and other approaches detailed in the district’s response to Jamie Aquino could be stopped or slowed under new management.

“Rather than upending the apple cart and disturbing the very real discernable progress that has been made in a lot of different fronts, I think what we should do is stay the course,” he said.

Gantt said he does not know when or if the bills will be voted on, but he’ll continue to push for reform.

“We can’t just let kids sit there and die on the vine,” Gantt said. “That’s not an answer.”

James Brown is a reporter with WXXI News. James previously spent a decade in marketing communications, while freelance writing for CITY Newspaper. While at CITY, his reporting focused primarily on arts and entertainment.