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RCSD Budget Put Off Again, Now Set for March 26

Patti Singer

First, the date was March 17. Then it was March 24.

Board of Education President Van White wanted to push the date for Superintendent Terry Dade to present the proposed 2020-21 Rochester City School District budget for another two weeks, but the board voted no.

Dade now is scheduled to present the budget on March 26.

The first delay was driven by COVID-19. But the escalating illness continued to influence White’s request at the March 24 meeting that the board further delay the budget.

“The pandemic has gotten even worse,” White said the day after the board meeting.

As of 10 a.m. March 25, Monroe County reported 117 confirmed cases. Of those, 22 people were hospitalized and 11 were in intensive care.

With the budget based on government aid, events in Albany affect the outcome.

When the state budget is finalized, which is supposed to be April 1, the district will know how much money it is getting from Albany. The proposed district budget historically has been presented before the amount of state aid is known. It is drafted based on prior budgets, with conservative estimates for increases. But the district has no reserves to cover any unanticipated shortfall in government aid. And COVID-19 is strapping a state that already had its own budget issues.

So, with the district needing $35 million to cover a gap from the previous year and about $60 million for the upcoming year — and the anxiety around COVID-19 — White suggested waiting until the district knew how much it could bank on. The proposed district budget is expected to call for layoffs and other cuts.

He said that he called Dade to get his feelings on a delay. “Terry said (he) was thinking the same thing,” White said.

White said he sent an email to board members. He suggested extending the presentation date to April 7.

The board 4-3 against it. However, the board agreed to give Dade a two-day extension so he could inform people who might be affected by the budget.

Natalie Sheppard and Beatriz LeBron, who were the most vocal board members during the discussion, voted against delaying the presentation until April 7. Ricardo Adams and vice president Cynthia Elliott also voted no.

Contacted the day after the meeting, Sheppard said she was sensitive to the situation of COVID-19 and potential job loss for district employees.

“I do think my role as an elected leader is to ensure that the work is being done no matter the circumstances,” she said. “Whether we do (the budget) now or two weeks from now, it’s still going to be as big of a thing as it was last week when it was supposed to be done.”

Sheppard said she understood the logic of waiting until the state has finalized its budget. But the district has never waited, and the board has to meet its own deadlines for review and submitting the budget to City Council. Council is scheduled to vote on June 16. The city’s fiscal year starts July 1.

LeBron echoed Sheppard in saying that the board has to study the proposed 500-plus page budget and ask questions.

“The board needs time to read though the budget, understand where those impacts are going to be,” LeBron said.

Had the board accepted the April 7 date for the presentation, it would have had three days for the first of three opportunities to submit questions.

“That’s unrealistic,” LeBron said.

The proposed schedule for the budget review calls for board members to submit questions on April 10, April 17 and April 24. A public hearing webinar is proposed for April 14. A special board meeting for budget adoption is scheduled for May 7. The budget is due to City Hall on May 12. The city does not have control over the budget.