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Advocates Urge Law Change to Keep Diversity in Classrooms

Patti Singer
pattisinger@minorityreporter.net

Students, parents, teachers and other community members came to the school board’s finance committee meeting Dec. 10, 2019, to speak against proposed staff reductions. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

If parents, teachers and students plan to lobby Albany for millions of dollars to help the Rochester City School District close a projected budget gap, advocates for racial equity in the district want them also to ask about changing a state law on seniority.

“If we want to stop the leak of race- and class-conscious teachers of color from the district, we have to address the policies and practices that lead to these outcomes,” Board of Education Commissioner Judith Davis said. “One is to address the policy of last hired, first fired.”

A day after 63 students, parents and staff members pleaded for more than two hours with the school board to delay proposed staff cuts that would help close a projected $64.8 million budget gap, Davis presented data showing that because the seniority rule must be followed, the reductions disproportionately would affect teachers of color.

Davis urged advocates to ask lawmakers to reconsider the seniority provision “so that when we take actions to increase the number of teachers, when the district becomes financially distressed, they don’t go right back out the door.”

Davis joined with the RCSD Parents/Grandparents/Guardians, Take It Down Planning Committee/Faith Community Alliance/Movement for Anti-racist Ministry and Action Coalition and community members in a news conference Dec. 11 in “a call to uplift the importance of black and brown teachers in the classroom and the unique characteristics they bring that help students of color to achieve.”

Davis cited research by authors Gloria Ladson-Billings and Nicolas Papageorge, and a study in the journal American Educational Research Association that showed the influence of black teachers on black students.

Davis said she requested data on racial demographics for the proposed reductions and presented the following:

  • African Americans made up 26.32% of the Association of Supervisors and Administrators of Rochester, but were to comprise 40% of the reduction in force;
  • they made up 38.84% of Board of Education Non-teaching Employees, which represents non-teaching employees but were to be 56.25% of the reduction in force;
  • they made up 56.81% of Rochester Association of Paraprofessionals but were to be 59% of the reduction;
  • they made up 12.79% of Rochester Teachers Association but were to be 13.16% of the reduction.

According to the data she presented, in all cases the percentage of reduction in force of whites was below their composition within the bargaining units.

Davis said the district’s Racial Equity Advocacy Leadership (REAL) team has worked over the past two years on a plan to address, among other issues, the under-representation of race and class-conscious educators of color. “Without that law change, the first time in financial distress we lose the persons we’re working to bring and maintain in the district.”

Superintendent Terry Dade, school board president Van White and vice president Cynthia Elliott listen to speakers at the Dec. 10, 2019 meeting of the finance committee. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

Among the dozens of speakers at the Dec. 10 meeting of the board’s finance committee, several expressed concern that staff reductions would hurt cultural competency in the district.

In November, Superintendent Terry Dade proposed a 5 % staff reduction to help close the projected deficit from overspending and underbudgeting for the 2018-19 and 2019-20 academic years. He had eliminated about $28 million in nonclassroom expenses.

Overwhelmingly, speakers on Dec. 10 implored the board that if they had to reduce the staff, wait until June to avoid disrupting classrooms and hurting students.

“I wish I could make that happen,” Dade said.

Talking to the media after the speakers were finished, Dade said the state would have to guarantee about $40 million for the district to avoid staff cuts.

“I can’t operate with a hope,” he said. “ … If we don’t get guarantees from the state with regard to immediate and substantial funding … we will face challenging times if we delay further.”

The board is scheduled to vote Dec. 19 on the proposed cuts. If they are approved, the request from the state would be about $20 million.

Dade said that as the fiscal steward of the district, he cannot overspend the budget this year.

He said he has met with or is scheduled to meet with state legislators and also with Rep. Joe Morelle. He plans to go to Albany in January and he provided an update on his ongoing meetings with union leaders.

Rochester Community for RCSD Change is organizing behind students and teachers. Among its events:

  • 4:30 p.m., Dec. 17 parent march from Parcel 5 to 131 W. Broad St. for a rally prior to 6 p.m. board meeting.
  • 4:30 p.m. Dec. 19, rally at 131 W. Broad St. prior to 6 p.m. board vote on the staff reduction proposal.

The group also is urging people to sign up to speak at school board meetings. For more, go to wearercsd.com.

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