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Rochester School Board votes to adopt 2020-21 budget

May 8, 2020

The zoom video conferencing meeting where the Rochester City School District budget is voted on.
Credit James Brown

The Rochester City School Board adopted a budget Thursday night for the upcoming school year. The plan was designed to bridge an $87 million budget gap. It passed by a 6-1 vote with Commissioner Beatriz LeBron voting no. 

The plan cuts more than 300 teaching and staffing positions, and closes five elementary schools. One of those school will be converted into a Pre-K center and another into a middle school, among numerous other changes.

Commissioner Willa Powell said she knows the cuts are painful and considered voting against the spending plan, but says in the end, she couldn’t.

“I often think that cuts that we are asked to make are too deep to endure,” said Powell. “Too deep to deliver mandated services. Sadly, other individuals from the distinguished educator to the state comptroller’s office disagree with that view.”

Commissioner Ricardo Adams had similar reservations. 

“There’s a whole lot I don’t like about this budget. A whole lot,” said Adams. “I’m in a fight that I can’t win. I always thought I could win any fight that I’m in. But this one we in a hole here.”

Board Vice President Cynthia Elliott said she agrees that the cuts will hurt the district but says there’s no way around it.

“These are now, more than ever, scarce resources, it used to be, in the culture, we’ll just go to the state and get the money, well, the state doesn’t have the money so what are we going to do?” said Elliott.

Commissioner Natalie Sheppard said the cuts were counterproductive but necessary.

“This is a budget that, we all know that, in some respect, widens the gap that we are continuously trying to close here in Rochester,” Sheppard said.

The budget cuts numerous social workers and other social emotional aid for students. Commissioner Amy Maloy and Board President Van White echoed the sentiments but voted for the measure.

As for LeBron, she voted against the budget because she didn’t like how some elements of the plan were constructed. She specifically mentioned a central office staff member who was promoted, and an understaffed grant writing department among other major concerns. LeBron also said the district’s financial future isn’t bright. 

“So I want that on the record that this district is not out of the financial challenges just yet. And we will require another year of painful decisions ahead," LeBron said.

The budget process is not quite over yet. Rochester City Council has the final say in June.