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Rochester Teachers, Parents Protest Over Proposed RCSD Staff Cuts

Patti Singer

Teachers and parents scheduled a protest Dec. 5, 2019 over proposed staff reductions to close a potential $64.8 million budget gap. File photo

Parents and teachers rallied Dec. 5 outside the the administration offices of the Rochester City School District to oppose mid-year staffing cuts proposed by Superintendent Terry Dade that would help stave off a potential $64.8 million budget gap by June.

The rally at 131 W. Broad St. was before a 6 p.m. school board meeting featuring a report from East High School Superintendent Shaun Nelms.

The rally grew too large for the sidewalk in front of the building and at 5:17 p.m., Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski, asked Rochester Police Department to close West Broad Street for safety reasons. RPD closed a section until 5:37 p.m., when the rally ended, according to Lt. Michael Cotsworth. He said the rally was peaceful.

The rally was a response to the Dec. 3 meeting of the board’s audit committee, at which time Dade presented a staff reduction plan that would save $10.4 million from the budget and avoid spending another $3.7 million.

The plan called for eliminating a total of 359 positions, which include closing vacancies. Of those positions:

  • 195 would be teachers;
  • 77 would be paraprofessionals;
  • 72 would be support staff; and
  • 15 would be administrators.

On Dec. 6, Dade announced via his Twitter account (@TDade) that notices were sent to some affected staff members. “When I accepted the position as your superintendent, I never could have imagined that I would be making cuts in the middle of a school year, let alone in the midst of the holiday season,” he said.

He said he was truly sorry that he could not wait until June to make the staff reductions. He said that even with the cuts, the district still cannot close its projected deficit by the end of the school year. He said he is calling on the state for additional funding.

After the Dec. 3 presentation, Dade said he was not looking for a specific number of staff reductions but to reduce the deficit by about $10 million.

Dade said he’s heard criticism that he is balancing the budget on the backs of teachers. He said district has about 300 administrators and 3,600 teachers. He said the Association of Supervisors and Administrators has agreed for its members to eliminate their vacation cash-in for the rest of the 2019-2020 year. That saved $450,000, which equated to eight to 10 positions.

“… I would welcome a conversation with each and every bargaining unit of anything you can put on the table to mitigate some staff reductions,” he said. “The last thing I want to do is walk people out of a door, particularly midyear.”

RCSD Superintendent Terry Dade listens to an audit report at the Dec. 3 school board meeting. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

On Dec. 3, the audit committee received a draft of the certified audit and financial report for the 2018-19 academic year. Dade said the presentation by Kathryn Barrett of FreedMaxick confirmed what he’d been saying since October, when he first announced the district faced a shortfall of about $30 million. After looking at the budget for 2019-20 and seeing areas of overspending and underbudgeting, Dade said the combined shortfall could be as much as $64.8 million if the district did not take action.

He repeatedly has said that he can’t allow that to happen.

Dade, who vowed he would stay as far away from the classroom as possible, cut $28 million in non-staff expenses. He said that amounts to 44% of what’s needed. The board already approved those reductions.

He said $6.8 million in reductions affecting the Rochester Teachers Association is 10% of the amount needed.

So far, Dade’s proposals would save about $43 million. He said he plans to lobby Albany for additional funding, but he is aware that the state has its own fiscal challenges.

“This is not cutting as far away from our students and from the classroom as possible,” Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski said in a news release. “It’s fantasy to think that these mid-year cuts won’t be disruptive to our students and won’t have a devastating impact on their ability to learn. Perhaps the Central Office bureaucracy should look deeper at itself before trying to balance the budget on the backs of students and teachers.”

At the meeting Dec. 3, parent Heather Modzel spoke of her concerns about instability resulting from reducing classroom staff. She said cuts should start with administration and not teachers and support staff.

“Our kids need to stay with teachers they already have built relationships with,” she said. “ A lot of (our children) don’t have support at home. The support they get is only from the school.”

Dade said the district must provide mandated services and meet contractual obligations on class size.

Board members asked on Dec. 3 for the number of students who would be affected, and Dade said he will provide that data. Afterward, he said his office is working on how best to explain the changes to students and parents. He said he is not ready to make those messages public.

The board has three days to submit questions to Dade on the staff reductions, and he has three days to respond. He is scheduled to provide and update Dec. 10, and the board is scheduled to vote Dec. 19 on the staff reductions.

The unions representing teachers and paraprofessionals are urging parents and community members to contact the school board prior to that meeting.
The unions are advocating for:

  • cuts from the Central Office and district bureaucracy, if necessary, to keep the cuts away from the classroom to minimize disruption;
  • the district to lobby the state for more funding and delay action as much as possible until Rochester receives more state support; and
  • the district to postpone cuts until the end of the school year when they would be less disruptive, when the district will have more information about the budget moving forward and when there will be more certainty about additional state funding.

Dade has said that postponing cuts is not possible if he is to avoid the projected shortfall.

This story was updated to include information about the rally by teachers and parents.

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