Tuesday 29 November 2022
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East High Faces Cuts as RCSD Superintendent Closes Budget Gap

Patti Singer

Rochester City School District Superintendent Terry Dade proposed closing two schools, reducing staff across the board and cutting money for East High School in his most recent budget for the 2020-21 school year.

Additional changes were needed after the state did not increase funding for the district. Providing the same amount of money essential created more of a hole for the district.

The deficit for the upcoming academic year is $87 million. Coupled with deficits in the previous two school years, the district has had to close a $152 million shortfall within eight months.

Over the past few weeks as Dade prepared to present his budget recommendations – and as analyses showed more of a deficit – he said there would be difficult decisions. The scenario played out on April 14, when speakers submitted letters addressing proposed staff cuts and members of the Board of Education reacted to the proposal to reduce spending at East High School by $6 million.

“It’s playing out exactly the way I feared,” Dade said during an online interview April 15 with Minority Reporter. “You’re hearing nothing but concerns, and rightfully so, about what’s being cut and reduced but not a whole lot of solutions being offered to close an $87 million deficit. This is not something you can look at a position at a time. Some very large items need to be put on the table to meet that $87 million deficit, which is why so many of my proposals are so unpopular right now and from midyear on.”

Dade also is proposing to eliminate 5.7% of the workforce, including 280 teacher positions. However, he said that for the past three years, an average of 250 teachers have resigned or retired, meaning most of that reduction could be handled by attrition.

The proposed spending plan totals $931,553,649.

The district also has to start paying back the $35 million it received to help close the gap for the current year. And because there is no savings account, the district is trying to build a reserve of $8 million.

Dade addressed several issues about his latest proposal. The responses were edited for space and clarity.

What led to the recommendation to close Schools 20 and 43, saving a total of $7.8 million?

This is not new. Superintendent Lowengard did a presentation to the board of the need to close schools. There was a criteria established, looking at the building structure, whether it was up for renovation, enrollment and also academic performance. …We kept a lot of that criteria. We also looked at the community effect. Every time you make a decision for closure, you have to look at things like are there enough seats in that zone to absorb the students impacted.

How did the recommendation about East High become a flashpoint?

… Midyear on I’ve been making some tough decisions to successful programs in the district being impacted by staff reductions. I think of School 19, School 9, the RISE school, Monroe High School, just to name a few of examples of schools that are doing right by kids, showing progress and I still hit them with significant staff reductions, which impacted their model. Being responsible for 27,000 students and 50 school buildings, I couldn’t sleep well knowing that I was leaving two buildings untouched with regard to staffing and the like. … Still keep supports at East for students to continue the progress they’ve made. I couldn’t make cuts in all 48 others buildings and leave two untouched.

(East High Superintendent Shaun Nelms responded to the proposal with a statement that said the East budget is approved by the board and is not in Dade’s purview. Nelm budget for East represents less than 2% of the total district budget. Nelms said that East proposed a 10% reduction to its budget for the 2020-21 school year. Nelms said he was not consulted on Dade’s proposal and the $6 million cut “would sadly put an end to much of the important work that has been showing real, meaningful results for East, including professional development for our teachers, needed academic and social-emotional support for our scholars, effective curriculum that is showing results, and all of the building blocks of a great school.”)

What would the recommendation to reduce School Resource Officers and increase School Security Officers mean for students?

Since I got here, there was strong sentiment to reduce SRO (Rochester Police Department officers) in our schools by the board. … We’re going from 12 SRO in 10 buildings down to seven. That said, I explained to the board that I would not be reducing our safety and security budget line item. … We did increase security officers (district employees) for next year. … We’ll modify accordingly to maintain the safety and security of our buildings.

What is the status of the fiscal and academic monitor being called for by the state, and who pays?

From my understanding, the district is going to need to pay for the monitor.

I’ve made it clear, the monitor can’t get here soon enough. I need backing and support with regards to how do we really establish a solid fiscal future in Rochester. We’re making some really unpopular decisions. Right now, I’m feeling the weight of it on my shoulders and it really needs to be a collective ownership with the Board of Education, myself and my team and the broader community of how we’re going to make some tough decisions now for a brighter future. I’m looking forward to the monitor weighing in on some of these decision so we can make sure it’s not just Superintendent Dade recommendation but a collective recommendation for the future of Rochester.