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RCSD leaders mull future, plan budget after Dade's resignation

Apr 24, 2020

Rochester Board of Education President Van White said he was “blindsided” by the resignation of superintendent Terry Dade. 

White said the board learned of Dade’s desire to leave the district on Wednesday shortly before it became public. Dade cited conflict with the board as the reason for his departure. He’s leaving on July 23, to run Cornwall’s school district downstate.

“We didn’t know that he was at the point where he was saying, ‘I can’t negotiate this budget with you any further,’” said White.” And more importantly we had no idea that he was at the point where he was saying, ‘I’m at the point where I work with you any further and I have to resign.’”

Counting interim superintendents, a half-dozen people have had that role in the last decade. Despite Dade’s resignation, less than a year into his tenure, the district's $87 million budget crunch, and multiple investigations into district accounting practices, White said the job is as desirable as ever.

“We have not, nor do I anticipate, having trouble finding top notch candidates,” said White. 

He also said the board may consider choosing one of the people Dade beat out for the job last spring. 

“There’s a pool of candidates that were finalists and other candidates as well,” said White. “It's entirely possible that the board could decide in tomorrow’s meeting or subsequent meeting to pull from that pool of candidates.”

The district could opt to use the firm that helped recruit Dade. White said a clause in the district’s contract with that company said the company would assume the costs of interviewing more candidates, if Dade left the district in under a year.

Betty Rosa, the Chancellor of New York’s Board of Regents, will join the board as they finish their budget process over the next two weeks. White said the board reached out to Rosa due to the unique circumstances.

“We really respect Chancellor Rosa,” said White.”We know Terry has a good relationship with her. In the wake of this whole situation it might be a little bit awkward. Why not have an additional set of eyes on the process.”

That process continued Friday, as White, the board of education and district leaders met jointly with Rochester City Council. Noticeably absent was Dade, whose role was split between his chief of Ann Marie Lehner, Deputy Superintendent Lynda Quick, and District CFO Robert Franklin. 

Councilmember Michael Patterson questioned if the district planned to change its budgeting practices. Patterson pointed to an audit out this week by the New York State Comptroller’s office. That audit found that over the last five years district officials often budgeted negative numbers which made the budget appear balanced when it wasn’t. 

“This practice of budgeting negative figures is unnecessarily confusing as researchers hired by the district to study its budgeting process stated,” said Patterson who quoted from the audit.

“Within the decades of our experience in school finance, we have never seen original allocations with negative numbers.”

Franklin, who joined the district in November said past administrations kicked the can down the road.

“Significant dollars had to be cut from our budget and they didn’t know how to do it,” said Franklin. “And time had run out. So they indiscriminately reduced a number of items. And thought they could figure it out later and of course later never happened.”

Franklin pledged that this year’s budget will be “honest” and says the district is working with the state comptroller’s office as it rounds its current budget into shape. 

The board is scheduled to vote on the budget May 7. City Council is scheduled to have their say on June 10.