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New Math Adds Up to More RCSD Deficit Woes

Patti Singer
pattisinger@minorityreporter.net

The budget deficit and demands of coping with COVID-19 continue to dictate every move of the Rochester City School District.

On the budget, Superintendent Terry Dade is scheduled to present a revised budget proposal to the Board of Education on April 14 that reflects an additional $24 million deficit, making the total $85 million.

Dade talked to Minority Reporter about the numbers and about expectations for student learning during the COVID-19 crisis. The conversation was edited for space and clarity.

Please explain this latest budget gap.

We received the same dollar amount from 2019-20 for 2020-21. What the difference is, we have grown in state funding each year. With us remaining flat with funding, we found ourselves in a $17.5 million budget gap in addition to the $61 million I communicated to the community.

Layer on top of that $ 2.5 million what I would spend all over again on the feeding of our students. … That brings us to $20 million, in addition to the $61 million.

The final $4 million is my sincere desire to get our board and our community to realize we must rebuild our fund balance, our savings account. We don’t have one right now. … The new (deficit) number is $85 million for the 20-21 school year.

The first budget you presented closed the $61 million, correct?

That’s correct. There were proposals we put before the board that would close that $61 million gap.

Are you going to create a new budget?

Not a whole new budget. Our hope is we will move forward with the vast majority of the proposals that were already on the table. This $24 million further reduction needs to be made across RCSD to get us to have a balanced budget for the 20-21 school year.

Will you propose closing schools?

It’s undoubtable that school closures will be an option. I followed closely what predecessors have said. Superintendent Vargas recommended closing one school per year until we right-size the district. Superintendent Lowengard gave a presentation in May 2019, recommending criteria and the need to close schools. So I have the responsibility of moving forward with some of those options. …

At the board meeting April 7, vice president Cynthia Elliott said the district needs to bring back families. How do you do that under these budget constraints?

What I don’t want this community to experience is not making tough decisions now so we wake up sometime in the 20-21 school year with headlines like we did not close the deficit, we overspent our funding and we need to make midyear layoffs again. That cannot happen. Let’s get all the hard work done now so we can focus on … how we will rebuild the district. …

With the disruption caused by COVID-19, will students go to the next grade regardless of missing instruction?

We are analyzing the new direction from the state that just came out. We’re wrapping our heads around what does proficiency look like . … I want our community to know that there is no indication from the state that you will be held back as a result of COVID-19. What we need to dig into is whether you’ve been doing your work and meeting course requirements up until March when COVID hit. …

What about graduation?

We will not allow a senior not to walk across the stage, even if it’s virtually, as a result of COVID. Our responsibility is to make sure they get what they need to validate course completion and credit completion.

How does the lack of grading in a virtual classroom play into the decision and how are parents being accountable for keeping their children on track?

Grading in the traditional sense is out the window. … We need to think about grading and providing feedback to students very differently. … It’s going to be a series of guidelines that I will send out to the community. … It’s too early for me to share the nuts and bolts of those because we just got direction from the state.

If we are closed down for months of a traditional school year, you can no longer look at summer as summer vacation. If students have not met course requirements or standards based on the new direction set by the state, we owe it to our students and families to provide that support over the summer. … It won’t be brick and mortar summer school in my opinion, but it will be a continuity of learning and instruction for select students who need that support. …