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Rochester Teachers Consider Concessions as Clock Ticks Toward Dec. 19 School Board Vote

Patti Singer

Students, parents and teachers came to an RCSD board meeting Dec. 10, 2019 to protest proposed staff cuts. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

Rochester teachers are thinking about giving concessions to the Rochester City School District as it tries to close a budget gap projected to be $64.8 million by June 2020. If teachers agree, the next question is which concessions would they grant.

Their answers may not come in time for the Dec. 19 scheduled vote by the school board on a proposal by Superintendent Terry Dade that would lay off 152 of their colleagues at mid-year.

“We have protocol that we have to follow,” Rochester Teachers Association president Adam Urbanski said Dec. 16. “We need to survey our members, we need to go to the representative assembly for their consent and then we may need to do a vote of the members. We’re awaiting legal opinion on that. Any change on a contract must be ratified by teachers. I don’t expect that we will have any definitive conclusion anytime in the next couple of days. Maybe toward the end of the week.”

Urbanski said surveys went out to teachers on Sunday and results need to be tabulated.

That brings things down to the wire – and could be for nothing.

“If they vote on the 19th to approve the recommendation of the superintendent to lay off these teachers as of the end of the month, the whole notion of concessions is moot,” Urbanski said. “There will be no concessions.”

Urbanski said that was not intended to be a threat. “The whole point of considering concessions is to spare the layoffs of teachers and to spare the midyear disruption for students. If they go ahead with that plan, what’s the point?”

Urbanski said he was exploring concessions “because I believe that everybody if they can be part of the solution.”

The union representing administrators made a concession that saved about $450,000 and equated to eight to 10 positions.

Urbanski said give-backs won’t solve the problem. “There’s absolutely no way, bold and capitalized, no way they can get out of the financial mess they created by concessions. They need to get additional funding from the state.”

In November, RCSD Superintendent Terry Dade proposed a 5% staff reduction that he said would help close a projected $64.8 million deficit. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

Dade has been talking about the looming deficit since late September, when the district announced than an audit showed a problem.

Initially, Dade said there was a $30 million deficit from the 2018-19 school year. Further investigation showed overspending and underbudgeting in the 2019-2020 year, which led Dade to say that if nothing were done, the deficit would be $64.8 million by June.

After making spending cuts outside the classroom, Dade in November proposed a 5% reduction in staff. He said he wasn’t looking to reduce staff by a particular number but to save about $10 million. The layoffs also would affect 22 paraprofessionals, 32 support staff and 12 administrators. Dade has said that further staff cuts, while saving more money, would jeopardize the mission of the district. He has said he is lobbying the state for more aid. The amount ranges from about $25 million to $40 million, depending on whether the board accepts his proposal for staff reduction.

Only in the past couple of weeks has the community felt a sense of urgency. When letters were sent to potentially affected teachers and the union released a school-by-school list of cuts, students led protests and were joined by parents and teachers in speaking out at a school board meeting Dec. 10.

Dade said at a news conference Dec. 13 said the time wasn’t wasted but that the community could have rallied earlier to advocate for the district. “At the same time, there’s some benefit to quiet, to have some conversations with folks in the RCSD and beyond with level heads, not letting emotions drive our conversations. But now is the time that folks really come together. Unfortunately our timing window is relatively brief. So we have a lot to do in the next couple of days. I know we’ll get it done and emerge even stronger as a Rochester community.”

Dade said he welcomed the energy around the crisis and said he hoped it would last as the district continues to advocate. In February, the district starts the process for the 2020-21 academic year.

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