Rochester City School District Superintendent Terry Dade is scheduled to present the 2020-2021 budget to the school board at 6 p.m. March 17.
Most years, that happens without a lot of public attention.
This likely won’t be one of those years.
For about six months, parents, teachers and the community have been caught up in the RCSD budget saga. Previous years of overspending and underbudgeting have left the district looking down a $125 million hole – including $61 million in the upcoming school year.
“I ask for the public’s patience as we work through closing … the deficit in a period of one year,” Dade said after the school board’s governance committee met March 10.
He said the amount of deficit has forced him to seek additional aid for next year besides what he’s asking to cover previous shortfalls. He said he expects to hear by April 1, and that any money will come with strings attached.
The draft budget still is being formulated, so specifics aren’t yet available.
In addition to presenting the budget, which will go through the school board before being presented to City Council later in the spring, Dade is scheduled to host officials from the state Education Department. Dade said he meets with the chancellor and others in Albany frequently about funding. He said their visit is for other reasons, which he declined to say.
Dade gave updates on the district’s monitoring of COVID-19 and on its plan for prekindergarten centers.
Dade said the district is following guidance from the state and Monroe County health departments. He said that if there were to be a confirmed case involving a school, the school would close for 24 hours so the district could assess the situation and determine whether the building should be closed longer.
He said an extended closure would affect the meal program that families depend upon.
“We have a responsibility and obligation to make sure we are feeding our students as a continuation of service,” he said. “That said, it would be pretty tricky to figure out how to make that happen. As you think of containment and the like, all those have to be layers that you consider when determining sites to deliver food. So this going to be in close concert with the health department to guide us through what that could look like.”
Dade said some West Coast school districts are looking at a Meals on Wheels type of service.
The plan to close Schools 44 and 57, which had some elementary grades, and turn them into prekindergarten centers has been adjusted to include first grade for special education students.
Less than a week after the school board voted 5-2 on Dade’s proposal, the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) received an anonymous complaint that the district was operating an unlicensed day care center.
The facility in question was the Rochester Early Childhood Education Center (RECEC), which has been presented as a model for the two additional centers.
Dade said the district worked with OCFS and received a license for RECEC within a week. The cost was less than $10,000, which covered minor work on the facility, health screenings and per diem sub support.
Dade said that districts across the state have not been clear on whether pre-K centers had to be licensed by OCFS. However, they don’t need OCFS approval if they have at least one first-grade class. Grade levels beyond kindergarten fall under the state Education Department compulsory education requirements. Dade said K-1 special education would be offered at each of the pre-K centers in the 2020-21 school year.
Dade said parents have asked for such a continuation of services, particularly if students have an individualized education program.