A deal has been struck to bail out Rochester City Schools after the district overspent by more than $60 million last school year, which caused the district to lay off more than 150 staffers in December.
Assemblyman Harry Bronson said a fiscal and academic monitor will be appointed to the district for the next three years. In exchange, the district will receive a $35 million loan from future state aid, known as a spin up, which will be paid back over at least 30 years. Without this agreement, Bronson said the district may have been allowed to seek a line of credit, but with a much shorter repayment window.
The layoffs, which saves the district $25 million, and the state’s assistance, will close the budget gap for this school year. But, the district now has to grapple with a budget gap for the next school year, 2020-21, which is projected at $60 million.
Unlike the concept mentioned by Assemblyman David Gantt in recent months, Mayor Lovely Warren will not have a hand in appointing the monitor.
“The (education) commissioner will select the monitor,” said Bronson. “So there will be some involvement and partnership through the State Education Department, yet we will maintain local control.”
Bronson said the bill calls for the monitor to be hired “ASAP.” He said the bill was structured to foster collaboration between Superintendent Terry Dade, the state, the community, and the Board of Education. The superintendent and the monitor will create joint academic and fiscal plans for the district. If the board approves the plans, there will be a public hearing. If the board does not approve the plans, the state education commissioner will have the final say.
Initially, Bronson wanted two seperate monitors, one fiscal and one academic, similar to the Hempstead and Wyandanch school districts. Bronson said those roles were combined during negotiations with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office. He said combining the skillsets means finding someone akin to a superintendent.
Bronson said there was not much pushback from other lawmakers because there’s no evidence, as of now, that the $35 million overspent last school year was embezzled or involved in other criminal malfeasance. He cautioned that the district is still under investigation from the state comptroller's office.
“My colleagues in the Assembly understand the importance of fully funding education for our children,” said Bronson. “And they’re not going to punish children for the mismanagement of adults in this situation.”
Bronson also said that foundation aid, which funds schools statewide, will likely not be increased in any state budget agreement because of the estimated $10 to $15 billion dollar economic hit caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But, Bronson says he does not expect education funding below last year’s levels; he said that the federal government will make up the difference.
“We think the schools will receive the kind of increase that they have in previous years,” said Broson. “But that money will come from Title 1 federal money instead of state money.”
Title 1 school districts, like Rochester, typically have high concentrations of low-income families which makes them eligible for specific federal grants.
Bronson thanked Rochester residents for their push for education funding.
“This could not have happened without the many strong voices and passion of parents throughout the district as well as students,” Bronson said.
A joint statement released by Superintendent Terry Dade and Board of Education President Van White:
"We are extremely grateful to Governor Cuomo and our local delegation for securing the $35-million-dollars we need for the remainder of this school year. This is a huge financial boost to ensure we finish this school year without an additional deficit moving into the 2020 – 2021 school year. We all understand these are tough fiscal times, but this big yes from the Governor and state lawmakers, and the addition of a monitor, will go a long way to begin our fiscal stability moving forward."