A plan to lay off 341 Rochester City School staffers and close two schools was announced Tuesday night.
Superintendent Terry Dade had to revise his budget proposal after New York state kept education funding flat year to year. But costs went up and added about $24 million to the district's budget deficit which was about $60 million.
Dade’s plan responds by closing two elementary schools: #20 and #43, and converting a third, #3, into a middle school. His budget update also lays off about 100 staffers more than originally planned. Nearly 80% of the staff laid off in the update would be teachers. Dade said that's because teachers make up the majority of district employees.
“We do hope that the vast majority of the 280 reduction would be attrition,” said Dade. “Over the past three years we have an average of 250 teachers resigning or retiring every year.”
Dade previously announced plans to reorganize the district’s central office, closing programs like the district’s bilingual and young mothers academies, and eliminating a number of social workers among other reductions.
The budget update banks on a freeze in charter school tuition, and adds $5 million to its request for cash capital via city council.
Dade’s plan also cuts the amount of uniformed police officers, known as school resource officers, in schools from 12 to 7. To deal with possible security concerns, Dade wants to hire 15 new school safety officers to make up the difference. He said it would take negotiations with the city of Rochester to reduce the police presence in schools. Dade plans to monitor impact of the changes on suspensions and other student behavioral problems.
Dade also proposed a $6 million reduction to East High’s Budget which was a sticking point for several commissioners. East is run in a partnership between the district and with the University of Rochester. The board extended the relationship for five more years earlier this year but Dade said that contract has yet to be approved by the state education department.
“I couldn’t sleep without putting a recommendation on the table,” said Dade. “When everyone of my other schools has seen reductions since mid-year, to have any entity not feel that is something I couldn’t wrestle with.”
Commissioner Amy Maloy expressed concerns about proposing East’s reduction without involving the University of Rochester or East’s Superintendent Shaun Nelms. Commissioner Willa Powell and Board President Van White also expressed concerns. White said that the cuts amount to 30% of the schools’ staff and said East should be a model for the district.
“Their budget that year when they were graduating just 19% of their kids was 14.8 million dollars,” said White. “You see what I’m saying. What this budget proposes is to take them back to the days when they were knocking on our doors, pulling spikes and wanting to hang us by trees because we were failing our children at East High School.”
Board Commissioner Beatriz Lebron disagreed with White’s assessment.
“If we decide as a board to not cut 6 million from East. We have to cut 6 million from the backs of all our other students,” said Lebron. “It’s not a model that we can afford or replicate across any of our schools. None of our current high schools is getting anywhere near the amount that East is getting.”
Both White and Nelms said that East has cut its budget multiple times and even given back some of its funding to the rest of the district over the last few years. And Nelms, who was not a part of the meeting but had access to the Zoom conference room spoke up. He said he was surprised by Dade’s proposal and warned of the consequences.
“By cutting the 6 million dollars,” said Nelms. “It is essentially, no not essentially, it is ending the relationship with the EPO and the University of Rochester. That’s what the six million dollars signifies, whether it's intentional or not, that's what it signifies."
In response to criticisms, Dade told the board that the arrangement with East has to be reconsidered.
“I’m hearing that we need more more counselors and social workers,” continued Dade, “East has 11 counselors, 6 social workers, 2 psychologists, 13 reading teachers, 16 teachers on assignment, 11 in the admin, for two schools, when I’m reducing my SEG (Superintendent's Employee Group) group, it has to be questioned, so again I can’t can’t sleep without putting it as a proposal, especially when I’m looking at every other principal in the district and asking them to do more with less.”
Board budget deliberations begin on Thursday. The board of education plans to vote on the proposal on May 7th. City Council has the final say on the budget. That vote is scheduled for June.