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RCSD School Budget: There Must Be a Better Way

Op-ed by Don Bartalo

Donald B. Bartalo

During April and May, I attended every Zoom meeting of the RCSD finance committee and full board. During that period, I watched the board: a) struggle to interpret the draft budget prepared by the superintendent and her finance committee, b) remove the budget director, c) bring back a former finance officer, d) listen to comments from a handful of people, and e) approve the 983-million-dollar 2022-2023 school budget by a vote of four to three.

Before the final vote, the board president asked each commissioner to tell how they were going to vote and why. Here are some paraphrased examples of their responses: >I’m going to vote no again this year because the budget does not reflect the needs of our students. >I’m going to vote yes for the kids and teachers——but it’s not the budget I hoped for. >I don’t want to vote no but I cannot support a budget that lacks transparency. When the vote was three to three, President Elliott said she had to vote yes because she didn’t know what else to do. She didn’t like the budget, but felt she had no choice.

Is this how a nearly one-billion-dollar school budget should be developed? 

School budgets in Monroe County schools are presented to the community for a vote. This is not true in Buffalo, Syracuse, and Rochester. In these cities, school budgets are developed by the district but approved by the city council. Knowing this, the school board has a responsibility to make sure that prior to meeting with the city council [usually late in May]:

1) the budget development process has been both transparent and open giving parents and community members plenty of opportunities to help determine where monies should be spent and why, and

2) a clear and concise line-by-line budget draft is made public and provides a systematic way of reviewing estimated revenues and expenditures prior to meeting with the city council.

In other words, even though city residents do not have an opportunity to “vote on a proposed school budget”, they should have many opportunities to influence the development of the budget draft and see it before it goes to city council. City residents must be allowed to help choose the direction of the budget and board members must be able to make sense out of  the draft.

Those of us who live in Rochester, are aware of how difficult it has been for RCSD school boards to fulfill the two responsibilities listed above. School commissioners have lost touch with parents and community members. Not for lack of trying, but rather, lack of trying the right things.

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Donald Bartalo is a nationally recognized instructional leadership consultant and coach with K-12 experience as a teacher, teacher leader, assistant principal, principal, and superintendent of schools. He has worked in rural, suburban, and urban school districts. He is author of Closing the Teaching Gap: Coaching for Instructional Leaders. Donald Brian Bartalo is founder & artistic director of Hummingbird Theatre Co. He is also the Founder/CEO of his own company, UNITY Instructional Leadership Development and Coaching, with a mission to support school leaders helping teachers to create better learning opportunities for students. Donald’s unique ability is to help educators become better instructional leaders through coaching and focused seminars. He  is dedicated to working with urban teachers and administrators to improve teaching and learning.

Donald Brian Bartalo
dbartalo@rochester.rr.com
69 Cascade Drive
Rochester, NY 14614