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Update: Board ‘Blindsided’ by Dade’s Resignation and Move to Hudson Valley District

Patti Singer

Rochester City School District Superintendent Terry Dade is headed to a Hudson Valley district. Provided photo

A day after the Rochester City School District board heard from his lawyer that Terry Dade wanted to leave his job as superintendent of the Rochester City School District, Dade was named superintendent of Cornwall-on-Hudson in the Hudson Valley.

The website of the Cornwall Central School District on April 23 announced that Dade would be starting in July.

“When the Board of Education first met Mr. Dade, we knew we had a match,” the website said.

Dade resigned from the RCSD April 23 by email after participating in a board meeting. His intentions did not come up in any discussion in public or in executive session. People watching on Facebook used hashtags showing their support for the superintendent and urging him to stay.

Dade sent the email to the board just before 9:43 p.m.:

“It is with a heavy heart that I provide you notice of my resignation, as required by my contract (i.e. 90 days’ notice), effective July 23, 2020. I just accepted another position and it was announced this evening. I remain committed to supporting you and the entire district as we work collaboratively to adopt a balanced budget, and I will continue to provide the leadership and planning necessary to support our students and families through this challenging pandemic. Thank you for your hard work and dedication to the RCSD.”

Board President Van White said during a news conference April 24 that Dade’s departure surprised the board.

“We were blindsided,” White said.

“In the end, we didn’t know that he was at the point where he was saying, ‘I can’t negotiate this budget with you any further,’ and more importantly we had no idea that he was at the point where he was saying, ‘I cant’ work with you any further, I’m going to resign.'”

White said the board and Dade had retreats and engaged in restorative practices to improve their relationship.

Dade did not return a text message seeking comment.

The state Education Department on April 24 said it was aware of Dade’s resignation and is in contact with district officials. The Education Department is in the process of identifying candidates to serve as the fiscal/academic monitor for the district, which predates Dade’s departure.

White said at the news conference that Dade still is the superintendent and that terms of his departure are being discussed. The board can move up Dade’s effective date if it follows certain procedures.

White said he wanted to keep the focus on the work the board had to do — namely the budget. The board votes May 7 on the spending plan, and it goes to City Council in June.

White said Dade’s “lame duck” status should not affect the budget process.

“He’s a committed person,” White said. “No matter what label you put on him, my experience is and my belief is he will do the job he’s being paid to do. I believe that he is a guy who had tremendous capacity and ability and will come through.”

It was RCSD’s seemingly intractable budget problems that led Dade to cut short his time in Rochester. He arrived in July and his contract ran through June, 2022.

But about three months in, an external audit showed that Dade inherited a multimillion deficit. Dade has said that because of several years of underbudgeting and overspending, he has had to close a $152 million hole in one year. That includes his proposed budget for the 2020-21 school year that would have to close an $87 million gap.

“It’s the cumulative impact of being dealt crisis after crisis and not having the full support of the board in making these tough decisions,” Dade said on April 22.

The April 23 board meeting included a discussion about his proposed budget that would cut several million dollars from East. Previously, Dade had proposed cutting $6 million, which led to an outcry from East Superintendent Shaun Nelms.

At the April 23 meeting, Nelms and RCSD board members said they are working together to determine how much of a reduction East can bear. He said “cooler heads prevailed” and that the goal is to support the district “and move forward.”

Dade had been scheduled to participate in a budget presentation by the district to members of City Council on April 24. Deputy Superintendent Lynda Quick and Chief Financial Officer Robert Franklin presented the proposed budget. Chief of Staff Annmarie Lehner also participated in the online meeting. White said Dade’s absence was a personnel decision and he did not elaborate.

The fact that Cornwall used the Warner School of Education at the University of Rochester in its search may have added to the sting felt by the board.

The Warner School is the Educational Partnership Organization for the RCSD’s East High School, and its involvement led to questions about potential conflict of interest. White said it is standard procedure for search firms to make sure they don’t have any conflicts when taking on a client. He said it appeared someone did not do part of due diligence.

Officials at the Warner School issued the following statement:

“We understand that the superintendent search assistance provided by the Warner School of Education to the Cornwall School District on its face looks like we may have undermined our commitment to Rochester, its educators, its residents, and most importantly its students and families, so we want to be clear that this is not the case and the result is entirely unintentional.”

The statement said the school’s Center for Professional Development and Education Reform provides leadership coaching and search consulting services throughout the state. The Cornwall search was one of five assisted by the Warner School in a little more than a year.

“While the Center was responsible for the Cornwall Central School District search, University leaders and East EPO leaders were entirely unaware of the fact that Terry Dade had become a candidate. While unfortunate, it was a completely independent and confidential process,” according to the statement, which said the school is looking “more closely at how this happened so as to avoid any possible real or perceived conflict of interest in the future.”

According to the Cornwall website, more than 400 individuals responded to a survey and said that the district’s next superintendent should have exceptional communication skills, be visible in our community, lead by example, be honest, trustworthy and caring, have a strong knowledge of curriculum and instruction while also being fiscally savvy.

Since Bolgen Vargas was interim and then superintendent from May 2011 through December 2015, the district has had five superintendents, including Dade. Barbara Deane-Williams lasted the longest, from August 2016 to January 2019.

This story has been updated with Terry Dade’s resignation email and comments from Board of Education President Van White.

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