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RCSD Looks at Layoffs as Part of Plan to Avoid Overspending

Patti Singer

Even though Rochester City School District Superintendent Terry Dade said he wants to stay as far away from the classroom as possible in preventing another budget shortfall, teacher layoffs are on the table.

“Staff reductions aren’t a specific number of teachers or adminstrators,” Dade said Nov. 12 after presenting his proposal to the school board’s finance committee. “The board has provided me with a target of around $9.8 (million) to $10 million in staff reductions. The hard work of my team is how to move our district forward while maintaining fiscal stability in the current and in the years to come.”

The school board voted 5-1 to approve Dade’s plan to address a $30 million shortfall from the 2018-19 academic year and take steps to avoid compounding a problem that if unaddressed could mean a $64 million hole.

Rochester City School District Superintendent Terry Dade presented a belt-tightening proposal to the finance committee Nov. 12. File photo

“If we were to look at our budget and I were to allow the train to just barrel toward June 2020, all things remaining constant, that would be the number,” Dade said. “I will not allow us to overspend this year. We’re not going to have a Groundhog Day in September 2020 where we wake up to the same story.”

Board president Van White, vice president Cynthia Elliott and commissioners Willa Powell, Judith Davis and Liz Hallmark voted for the proposal. Commissioner Natalie Sheppard voted against the proposal. Commission Beatriz LeBron did not attend the meeting.

“We’re doing the responsible thing, getting out ahead of it,” White said after the meeting.

The plan calls for $28 million in non-personnel areas, some of which are subject to union approval. One action is to apply $10 million that the district has to use for capital expenses to its deficit, which requires approval from Rochester City Council.

That would get the district close to the shortfall from last academic year. Staff cuts are needed to prevent the district from falling deeper into a hole. The board accepted Dade’s recommendation of a 5% reduction, but several commissioners asked how cuts would be determined and they wanted assurance the cuts would be made with equity in mind.

Dade said he also would ask the state for additional aid.

Contacted after the meeting, Sheppard said she was looking at the financial crisis from a 30,000-foot view.

“I do not want to see us lobbying every year to fill the projected yearly budget gaps when it is evident that truly funding our schools properly has been put on the back burner,” she wrote in an email. “After this initial plan of staff reductions and other budgeting efficiencies are implemented, if our yearly revenue isn’t matching the contractual and student support increases, then we will find ourselves stuck in this never ending cycle of pitting essential needs vs. essential needs.”

Awareness of the RCSD budget situation dates to Sept. 18, when external auditors notified Dade of financial concerns. On Sept. 26, the district reported a $30 million shortfall for the 2018-19 year. Dade also began looking at the current year.

His analysis of the actual 2018-19 and adopted 2019-2020 budgets showed underbudgeting in areas such as substitute teachers, health insurance claims, salaries and retirement contributions, workers compensation and expanded learning time. He also identified areas where actual revenue would not meet what was expected.

During his PowerPoint presentation to the board, Dade showed a slide of plane silhouetted against clouds. “The plane is in the air,” he said of the analogy to the district in the current school year, and adjustments need to be made.

Commissioners expressed concern that cuts would hinder gains from the previous years. The district had its highest graduation rate in a couple of decades and has reduced suspensions.

“I was brought here for one job and that is to move the academic outcomes forward as a district,” Dade said. “You will not hear me make any excuses for why are lagging behind. I have every bit of confidence that we will make adjustments as we move throughout this school year. We have amazing staff members who I know will continue to be dedicated to our students and will continue to do great things in RCSD.”

To read the PowerPoint presentation, go to