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NYS budget director says city and NYS Education Dept. can address school district problems

Oct 8, 2019

A top state budget official has sent a letter to officials from the City of Rochester and the New York state Education Department suggesting that both City Hall and state education officials use their authority to deal with problems in the city school district.

Officials with RCSD in the last couple of weeks have been talking about a $30 million budget gap because of overspending in the last school budget.

The letter from NYS Budget Director Robert Mujica was sent to Mayor Lovely Warren and Interim State Ed. Commissioner Beth Berlin.  Mujica notes that “much has been reported on the challenges facing the children” in the district and he shares the officials’ concerns about the fiscal health of the district.

And Mujica says that is why the City of Rochester and the State Education Department need to exercise their existing authority to address chronic mismanagement and underperformance in the school district.

Mujica says the budget problems facing the school district are not new, saying that the district closed significant budget gaps every year since 2014. The state budget director says that the Rochester Mayor and City Council have the authority “and the duty” to review, modify as allowed under law, and approve the school district’s budget.

He also says that since 2012, the Rochester City School District has received a 52% increase in funding from the state.

Mujica also calls on the state education department to, among other things, help the Office of the State Comptroller with its audit if necessary and also he says the state education department should initiate its own investigation.

He also says if necessary, the department can remove school board members and school officers.

Mujica also says the NYS Education Commissioner should reappoint a ‘Distinguished Educator,’ since the last person in that role resigned in June and a replacement has not yet been appointed.

Mujica also says that the state ed. department should place struggling schools in receivership if necessary to help with the turnaround process.

The letter from Mujica comes after Mayor Warren and Council President Loretta Scott recently asked Council to approve legislation that asks the NYS Legislature, the State Ed. Department and any other “entity designated by the Governor” to immediately establish financial control over the city school district.

A spokeswoman for the NYS Education Dept., Emily DeSantis released this statement after Mujica's letter was released:

“Clearly, the revelations and allegations surfacing over the past few weeks regarding the handling of RCSD’s finances are deeply troubling. The Department and Board look forward to findings of the Comptroller’s audit and conveyed to the Board and Superintendent Dade that they must take immediate action to address the district’s financial deficiencies. Further, we stand ready to partner with law enforcement agencies in any investigations the appropriate authorities feel are warranted.

“We remain extremely concerned with the dire situation in Rochester. We all know that systemic change needs to happen in the district to improve teaching and learning for children. Everything remains on the table and discussion needs to continue to find the best solution for Rochester’s students.

“Department staff have met with Superintendent Dr. Terry Dade and will continue to work closely with District staff as the district works to implement the recommendations in the DE’s report. Chancellor Rosa, Vice Chancellor Brown, Regent Norwood and Interim Commissioner Berlin are committed to ensuring RCSD students receive the education they need and deserve. We will continue our work to ensure stability and a brighter future for the students of Rochester.”

City Hall spokesman Justin Roj released this statement on Monday:

"Mayor Warren has been consistent in calling on the State to act on behalf of Rochester's children. We agree with the call from the State Budget Director - and the rulings from the State Supreme Court and Appellate Division - that the Department of Education must take action now to protect the short term health of our city's families and taxpayers. However, the Mayor still agrees with the State's Distinguished Educator who called for a 'total reset' of the system. While short term fixes that the State Budget Director proposed are important to protect Rochester residents, we must continue to pursue real State legislation to allow our children to reach their full potential."