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Parents, advocates question RCSD leaders on 2020-21 budget

Feb 21, 2020

Rochester Board of Education Commissioner Beatriz Lebron at the Rochester City School District budget training
Credit James Brown / WXXI News

With the possibility of 800 layoffs at the end of the school year the Rochester City School District and community members are hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. 

A couple of dozen parents, advocates and residents came to East High School Thursday night for a training session on the district’s budget.  Rochester Board of Education Commissioner Beatriz Lebron said the meeting is meant to inform the public about the budget process and explain misconceptions. 

Vicki Robertson attended the meeting. Her daughters go to Wilson Commencement Academy and she’s hoping the 600-page budget is clear, so she knows what to fight for.

“There’s gonna be really tough choices that you have to make and I want to understand what they are and be able to tell you whether I think they’re a good or bad choice,” said Robertson.

Kelli Ragin says her niece will enter the district next school year. She’s worried about the effects of the cuts on schools.

“I wanna see my niece get a good education,” said Ragin. “I don’t wanna have to move out of the city to make that happen. I don’t wanna move out of this city to make that happen. I don’t think I should.”

Ragin was also among those who reiterated a claim by the advocacy group Alliance for Quality Education that the district is owed about $86 million in foundation aid from the state. There is a petition in support of a state bill s7378 which would increase taxes on those who make over $1 million to pay for foundation aid.

“How long have you not received the foundation aid from the state and what are the plans of the board to get that money?” Ragin asked.

Lebron said select members of the board continue to lobby for that money but that’s not her focus. 

“My focus is unfortunately on this budget because this is a really rough budget and we have a large deficit to figure out to close.”

Barring a state bailout, Superintendent Terry Dade is projecting that the district is currently short around $90 million. That includes the $55 to $60 million deficit going into the next school year and the remaining $27 million or so that Dade says the district overspent in the last school year. To help bridge this gap, Dade has been lobbying the state for about $35 million in extra funding immediately.

New district chief financial officer Robert Franklin said the district is committed to a balanced budget with no gimmicks no matter what the state says.

“Today, tonight, New York state has not offered any additional funding. I don’t know what they’re going to say tomorrow or the day after that. But if the answer is zero we’re going to have to cut $55 million to $60 million within a $950 million budget and it's not going to be pleasant,” said Franklin. “I don’t wanna cast aspersions on anyone who came before me because I didn’t walk in their shoes. Our budget director, myself and our superintendent are committed to a balanced budget and an honest budget without shortchanging gimmicks that we know will be overspent in the long run.”

Retiring state assemblyman David Gantt says that he’ll support extra money for the district with strings attached. Gantt wants a fiscal monitor and an academic monitor for the district chosen by the state education department and Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren. He also says those monitors should have the power to veto decisions made by the board and Dade.

State senators Joe Robach and Rich Funke are also in support of a monitor.

Dade is set to present his version of the budget on March 17 with town halls and hearings to follow.

The full training and question and answer session is below: