Rochester School District Superintendent Terry Dade on Tuesday made public the details of his plan to bridge a nearly $65 million budget gap.
Over the next few days, 218 Rochester City School District paraprofessionals, administrators, and teachers will receive layoff notices. That number is lower than the initial plan, which cut 287 positions. Dade said that number is subject to change.
He said reductions would start by next month.
“If we do not move forward with the staff reductions as soon as January, we would pretty much assure ourselves and the community that we will overspend our existing budget this year so that’s a no-go. So waiting for June is a non-negotiable,” Dade said.
One reason why there are fewer layoffs is because the union that represents administrators approached Dade with an idea to freeze vacation cash-ins for its members for the rest of the academic year, which could save about 10 jobs.
“Their organization remained committed to putting something on the table to prevent some of their members from being eliminated, which resulted in a savings of $450,000,” said Dade.
Dade said he’s open to more creative solutions from the district and its unions to save jobs.
The mid-year budget cuts were prompted by overspending on the budget adopted last spring. The district’s former chief financial officer, Everton Sewell, told the Board of Education and City Council that the budget was balanced when it actually wasn't. There was about a $30 million shortfall in the previous school year, and district officials have said that if certain steps were not taken to cut expenses and raise other revenues in the current school year, the budget gap would be nearly $65 million. Sewell resigned in October.
Dade also expressed frustration with some of the rhetoric that he’s heard about the cuts, which says the burden is overwhelmingly impacting teachers.
“This is not an example of balancing our budget on the backs of teachers and staff,” said Dade.
“There’s some messages out there that teachers aren’t going to be in front of kids and the like. There might be differences like some teachers being displaced ... but our students will continue to have high-quality instructors in front of them everyday," Dade said.
The district’s largest union, the Rochester Teachers Association, is mobilizing members to express their displeasure for the cuts at a board meeting Thursday night, as are other community groups.
In anticipation of a high turnout for that meeting, the board is considering limiting public statements to two minutes per person, down from the customary three minutes. They’ve already received 31 speaking requests, which is abnormally high.
The cuts will help bridge about half of the projected deficit. Dade says cost controls, program cuts and at least $20 million from the state will fill the rest, which Board of Education president Van White said is overdue.
“I don’t want us to feel so guilty about what happened that we’re not talking about what they’ve done to us," White said. "And I know some people are uncomfortable -- they don’t want me to say that -- but we need to say that. Our children have been neglected perhaps by us but (also) by Albany.”
White cited steep challenges for the district, such as educating children marred by high poverty rates, lead poisoning and a growing number of students with special needs. He also mentioned the state’s failure to increase foundation aid to the district.
The Alliance for Quality Education has said the district receives about $86 million less state aid than it should.
The Board of Education will submit questions to Dade in writing over the next few days. The layoffs are subject to board approval on Dec. 19.