In a split vote, the Rochester City School District Board of Education approved a plan late Thursday night to lay off 155 district employees.
Under the latest plan from Superintendent Terry Dade, teachers will account for 109 of those layoffs, down from a previous proposal to lay off 152 teachers.
Teachers like LeAnna Dupree and Jamie Lillis were among the hundreds of teachers, staff, and community members who protested outside. They were also among 94 people who expressed their displeasure with the cuts during a nearly three-hour public comment period.
“This is an opportunity for redemption," said Dupree. "Mistakes have been made, of course they have, but join us now be a part of our district. Either take responsibility for your roles in the crisis, or take responsibility for saving the teachers and students.”
Lillis told the board to embrace the protests and postpone the cuts.
“Harness this energy! Harness it now!” said Lillis. “This isn’t going to be solved right here in this room tonight. Because you’re telling us that if we make these cuts, there are more to come down the road. We need to harness it and go to New York and tell them to pay the money they owe us.”
Commissioners Beatriz LeBron, Elizabeth Hallmark, Cynthia Elliott, Judith Davis and Willa Powell voted
for the layoffs. Davis provided the fourth vote necessary to approve Dade's plan and, in response to a clearly agitated crowd, the board walked out. Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Association, led the dozens of people chanting shame as after Davis voted.
Commissioners Van White and Natalie Sheppard voted against the layoffs. Sheppard said she was moved by the protests.
“For me, I’m going to vote 'no' tonight,” said Sheppard. “It’s simply because of the students and the voices that you have put forward.”
White, the board president, said he felt there was more the district could do to lobby before making the cuts. He also said there should be more cuts at the administrative level.
“If I have to have an empty cubicle at central office versus an empty cubicle at one of our buildings, personally me, I choose to have the empty cubicle at central office,” White said.
Hallmark said she voted for the bill because the district is running out of places to cut.
“There are no more cuts to be found. It is magical thinking to say go out and find some more cuts,” said Hallmark. “I’ve heard the message loud and clear that as an elected official, it is our duty to balance the budget.”
LeBron said she voted for the measure because she says the district is in dire straits.
“We still have a large deficit to fill,” said LeBron. “We will not make payroll. We do not have the cash. This is not a structural deficit.”
LeBron also said she knows who caused the fiscal crisis.
“I will say this Barbara Deane Williams needs to be criminally prosecuted because she is the reason why we’re all in this situation,” LeBron said.
Deane Williams retired as superintendent of the district in January.
The district isn’t out of the woods yet. Dade said he’ll be seeking more than $20 million along with program cuts and cost controls to balance the budget.
The district is also under investigation from the Securities and Exchange Commission and is being audited by the state comptroller’s office. Lebron said the comptroller has told the district that the shortfall is larger than previously thought. Dade said that the shortfall is “slightly higher.”