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Head of National Teachers Union to Address RCSD

Patti Singer

During the public comment period Dec. 17, 2019, a speaker shares concern with the Rochester City School District about the looming deficit. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

The president of the American Federation of Teachers is expected to speak before the Rochester City School Board votes on a proposal from superintendent Terry Dade that would lay off 152 teachers in the coming weeks.

The vote is scheduled as part of the school board business meeting, which begins at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 19 at administration offices, 131 W. Broad St.

Because the meeting is expected to draw hundreds of people, the Rochester Teachers Union had requested it be moved to a larger venue. But the board voted to keep the meeting at the central office, citing security and also the budget crisis. Officials said it would cost about $10,000 to hold the meeting at a site such as Franklin High School.

At issue is a looming $64.8 million deficit, caused by overspending and underbudgeting identified in the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 budgets. The district announced the gap in September, and Dade has spent the past months developing and talking about a plan to reduce current and future spending. He saved about $28 million outside the classroom, but said staff reductions would be necessary.

In November, he proposed a 5% percent reduction that would affect teachers, paraprofessionals, support staff and administrators. Dade said he would lobby the state for aid but would need a guarantee of between $25 and $40 million, depending on how much the district could recoup from layoffs.

Critics of the plan said it would disrupt learning and it left central office relatively unscathed. The vote comes after an intense couple of weeks in which students staged walkouts over the prospect of losing teachers at mid-year and parents and teachers also made impassioned pleas to the school board.

Weingarten’s visit to Rochester is not unprecedented, as ATF officials often go to local sites when they perceive a crisis.

In an email, Weingarten wrote that mid-year staffing cuts hurt students and staff. “At best it’s a Band-Aid, masking a very deep wound,” she wrote. “At worse, they injure students’ prospects forever. They disrupt student learning and leave hardworking educators scrambling to support their own families. It’s why they are almost never done, even in the worst of recessions.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. Provided photo

She wrote that the reductions “could have been prevented had Rochester City School District officials worked with the Rochester Teachers Association to find meaningful, workable solutions to the issues facing the public schools, instead of balancing the city budget on the backs of vulnerable students and the people in the classroom every day supporting them.”

Conversations between the district and the union have become a war of words as the Dec. 19 vote has gotten closer.

On Dec. 17, Dade released a statement that he met with union leadership but was told that concessions were unlikely before Dec. 19 because of union protocols. He said the RTA was surveying members and had to collect and examine the responses.

Dade has said that delaying action would increase the deficit and could imperil payroll. The superintendent said he was willing to continue discussions with the union.

RTA president Adam Urbanski said the Dec. 19 vote was an artificial deadline and that Dade was using scare tactics.

Urbanski said the union must follow regulations when considering its contract.

“The issue is this,” he said. “Can we work together to step up to the plate?”

Dade said Dec. 17, that the package he presented to the union would save about $8 million and if accepted in whole eliminate the need for midyear layoffs. Urbanski said that Dade did not guarantee that layoffs would not happen at some point down the road.

Urbanski said some of the concessions proposed by Dade are unrealistic and in the long run would hurt teachers.

Neither Dade nor Urbanski have been specific about what is being discussed, although there have been hints. Dade said that a give-back on a health incentive program could save $1 million. Urbanski said there was talk of salary giveback, but the union president said Dade should live by example.

Dade said that throughout the crisis, he has sought opinions and solutions, and he urged teachers to let their voices be heard.

“There are things that can be put on the table now to reduce the number of teachers walking out the door in January,” he said in a news conference after a board meeting Dec. 17. Asked if there was enough time, he concluded his remarks by saying, “Make time.”

Urbanski on Dec. 18 said he was frustrated and disappointed, “but at the same time open to trying to figure a way out.” He said he cannot tell teachers what to do but is there to carry out their will.

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