Saturday 28 January 2023
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City Loses Appeal Over School Board Referendum

Patti Singer

City Hall lost an appeal over a proposed referendum on the school board. File photo

Mayor Lovely Warren vowed to continue efforts to “fix a broken system” after the city lost an appeal over the proposed referendum that would have asked residents if they wanted at least a five-year state takeover of the Rochester City School District.

“Our children’s education remains the key to a better and stronger city,” Warren wrote in a prepared statement issued after the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court rendered its decision Sept. 4. “Today’s decision does not weaken my resolve to fix a broken system and provide our kids a fighting chance at life.

The Appellate Division upheld the decision made a month earlier by state Supreme Court Justice J. Scott Odorisi that barred the referendum from being included on the November ballot.

In his ruling, Odorisi said the referendum was advisory and therefore not allowed. The appeals court agreed.

The city wanted to amend its charter with regard to the school board, and the issue was around the wording of that change as it related to the outcome of the referendum. The appeals court upheld Odorisi’s decision on two points.

First, the court said the language of the proposed referendum made it dependent on subsequent action by the state legislature, which “strips the referendum of any binding legal effect … .”

The Appellate Division also agreed with the lower court that ‘a local
government may not legislate in areas ‘where the State has evidenced
its intent to occupy the field’ … and it is well established that the State has preempted local action in the field of public education … .”

The legal tussle began in July, when the Rochester City School District sued to stop the city from putting the referendum on the Nov. 5 election.

After hearing arguments from both sides, Odorisi ruled on Aug. 2 for the school district. The city then announced it would appeal.

Warren’s statement after the appeals court decision went on: “We will continue to demand our state legislators act, and work locally to realize the Distinguished Educator’s plan throughout our school district. Through this work we will make sure the voices and ideas of parents, grandparents and students are heard. I am committed to working and finding common ground with all those willing to put the needs of our children first. Together, we can still deliver the change that builds better schools, a better city and a better community for all.”

The law departments of City Hall and the school district, respectively, handled the lawsuit and no extra funds were required, according to spokespeople for the mayor and the Rochester City School District.