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Dade Seeks Changes to Pre-K in Quest to Stem Cycle of RCSD Budget Woes

Patti Singer
pattisinger@minorityreporter.net

Rochester City Schools Superintendent Terry Dade
on Feb. 7 talked about declining enrollment as a factor
in the ongoing budget woes.
Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

It appears that not a month goes by without Rochester City School District Superintendent Terry Dade having to tamp down another budget crisis.

Yesterday, Dade said he had to make midyear staff cuts and take other action on budget gaps from the previous and current school years so he wouldn’t have to repeat the scenario next fall.

He wanted to avoid what he kept calling Groundhog Day.

While still hoping the state will send $35 million to close the gap for the current school year, Dade on Feb. 7 said the projected deficit for the 2020-2021 year is $55 million to $60 million.

Dade’s tenure, which started in July, is more like a game of whack-a-mole.

“I thought I would be a very different superintendent than I am,” Dade said at a news conference. “Much more of the read-alouds in schools, having fun and bringing a culture of positivity to the district. I’m still working on that. At the same time, I’ve spent an immense amount of time just trying to secure funding in the middle of the school year.”

He said that had the school board not enacted his plan for midyear layoffs, the deficit for the 2020-21 year might be close to $80 million.

Dade is scheduled to present the 2020-2021 budget to the school board at a meeting that begins at 5:30 p.m. March 17.

By then, he hopes to have an answer from Gov. Andrew Cuomo about the $35 million—which, by the way, is not a gift. It would have to be paid back—and the district already is paying back previous advances, called spin up, that it has received over the years.

“If we don’t get that $35 million, we’re talking about not making payroll,” Dade said. “No one is getting paid in the RCSD at least that last month of the fiscal year.”

Without that $35 million, next year’s deficit would be larger, he said.

Dade first announced budget problems in late September, when an external audit showed a gap from the 2018-2019 school year. Further examination showed a potential deficit for this year, which Dade put at more than $60 million.

While some of those woes were caused by under budgeting, Dade said the potential shortfall for next year is due to long-standing issues. He said overspending and underfunding have been compounded over the years by decisions such as hiring more than 600 additional staff as enrollment was going down.

Dade said in the past 10 years, the district has lost more than 6,200 students.

“If I as your superintendent allowed that to continue for the next 10 years, we would be seeing a large urban district in New York State dipping below 19,000 students. That would be an absolute travesty for our school district. We might as well number all our buildings, divide by four and that’s what we would be looking at with regards to closures if we were allow that to happen.”

Dade is trying to reverse that trend by bringing 500 more pre-kindergarten students into the district. Under the plan, which has to be voted on by the school board, the district would cut ties to some community-based organizations that also offer pre-K. According to the district, it would evaluate the community organizations based on criteria that it uses every year.

The move would save RCSD money – it projected saving $4.1 million by closing the current academic programs at Schools 44 and 57.

But Dade says it was not only about revenue. The district said that operating the two pre-K centers would cost about $5.2 million. The current cost to serve 500 children at the CBOs is about $5.06 million, but that does not count administrative costs and overhead, the district said.

Currently, 39% of children in pre-K are educated in the RCSD and 61% are educated in the CBOs. His goal is to have 55% percent of the children educated in the district and 45% served by the CBOs. He said Syracuse public schools serve 60% of the pre-K pupils and Buffalo schools serve 81%.

Dade said the move was not an attack on the community-based organizations. He said data show that enrolling children in pre-K makes them twice as likely to stay in the district rather than go to a charter school.

“If we were to allow that staggering decline in enrollment to continue and do nothing innovative to address that, then we’re just allowing the RCSD to trend toward closure,” Dade said. “I’m very confident in the plan … We’re in a $55 to $60 million hole for next year. We have to come up with a long-term sustainable plan for the future of Rochester so we’re not in this exercise each and every year talking about the looming deficit each and every budget cycle.”

Rochester City School District Superintendent Terry Dade said he had to make midyear staff cuts and take other action on budget gaps from the previous and current school years so he wouldn’t have to repeat the scenario next fall.

He wanted to avoid what he kept calling Groundhog Day.

His tenure, which started in July, is more like a game of whack-a-mole.

It seems like not a month goes by without him having to tamp down another budget crisis.

While still hoping the state will send $35 million to close the gap for the current school year, Dade on Feb. 7 said the projected deficit for the 2020-2021 year is $55 million to $60 million.

“I thought I would be a very different superintendent than I am,” Dade said at a news conference. “Much more of the read-alouds in schools, having fun and bringing a culture of positivity to the district. I’m still working on that. At the same time, I’ve spent an immense amount of time just trying to secure funding in the middle of the school year.”

Dade said that had the school board not enacted his plan for midyear layoffs, the deficit for the 2020-21 year might be close to $80 million.

Dade is scheduled to present the 2020-2021 budget to the school board at a meeting that begins at 5:30 p.m. March 17.

By then, he would hope to have an answer from Gov. Andrew Cuomo about the $35 million – which, by the way, is not a gift. It would have to be paid back – and the district already is paying back previous advances, called spin up, that it has received over the years.

“If we don’t get that $35 million, we’re talking about not making payroll,” Dade said. “No one is getting paid in the RCSD at least that last month of the fiscal year.”

Without that $35 million, next year’s deficit would be larger, he said.

Dade first announced budget problems in late September, when an external audit showed a gap from the 2018-2019 school year. Further examination showed a potential deficit for this year, which Dade put at more than $60 million.

While some of those woes were caused by underbudgeting, Dade said the potential shortfall for next year is due to long-standing issues. He said overspending and underfunding have been compounded over the years by decisions such as hiring more than 600 additional staff as enrollment was going down.

Dade said in the past 10 years, the district has lost more than 6,200 students.

“If I as your superintendent allowed that to continue for the next 10 years, we would be seeing a large urban district in New York state dipping below 19,000 students. That would be an absolute travesty for our school district. We might as well number all our buildings, divide by four and that’s what we would be looking at with regards to closures if we were allow that to happen.”

Dade is trying to reverse that trend by bringing 500 more pre-kindergarten students into the district. Under the plan, which has to be voted on by the school board, the district would cut ties to some community-based organizations that also offer pre-K. According to the district, it would evaluate the community organizations based on criteria that it uses every year.

The move would save RCSD money – it projected saving $4.1 million by closing the current academic programs at Schools 44 and 57.

But Dade it was not only about revenue. The district said that operating the two pre-K centers would cost about $5.2 million. The current cost to serve 500 children at the CBOs is about $5.06 million, but that does not count administrative costs and overhead, the district said.

Currently, 39% of children in pre-K are educated in the RCSD and 61% are educated in the CBOs. His goal is to have 55% percent of the children educated in the district and 45% served by the CBOs. He said Syracuse public schools serve 60% of the pre-K pupils and Buffalo schools serve 81%.

Dade said the move was not an attack on the community-based organizations. He said data show that enrolling children in pre-K makes them twice as likely to stay in the district rather than go to a charter school.

“If we were tro allow that staggering decline in enrollment to continue and do nothing innovative to address that, then we’re jsut allowing the RCSD to trend toward closure,” Dade said. “I’m very confident in the plan … We’re in a $55 to $60 million hole for next year. We have to come up with a long-term sustainable plan for the future of Rochester so we’re not in this exercise each and every year talking about the looming deficit each and every budget cycle.”