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RSCD Layoffs May Not Provide Enough Budgetary Relief

It’s already hard enough to keep good teachers around. Roughly 57% of organizations view employee retention as a problem — and given the low wages and high stress associated with teaching, it’s no surprise that the annual turnover rate in U.S. schools is 16%. But while countless teachers wanted to remain within the Rochester City School District through the 2019-2020 school year, many were not given that opportunity due to unexpected layoffs in December.

Approximately half of the public school workforce is made up of teachers. But 175 district employees, including 109 educators, were laid off by RSCD in early December in an effort to make up for district overspending last year — to the tune of $30 million. The layoffs also doubled as an effort to bridge the district’s budgetary gap of $65 million. Later in the month, it was revealed that 154 teachers had been displaced as a result of the layoffs, with 81 teachers remaining in the same building and 73 moving to new buildings. Many teachers were not given their new classroom assignments until the night before classes were to resume after the holiday break.

The number of reported layoffs has dropped since the initial reports were released, with most outlets reporting 95 teachers ended up being laid off from the district. But while temporary disability benefits offer employs two-thirds of their average weekly earnings, weekly unemployment benefits for New York State workers are determined by dividing an individual’s earnings for the highest-paid quarter of the base period by 26. For America’s underpaid teachers, this might not represent a very high amount.

Moreover, the amount the district will save based on these layoffs may not be nearly enough. RSCD officials, teachers, parents, and students have rallied throughout the city following the layoffs, with many traveling to Albany to ask the state for additional aid in closing the shortfall. Some advocates argue that New York State owes an additional $3.8 billion to public schools, so it’s no surprise that Rochester is one of many severely underfunded districts. According to some organizations, the state owes a staggering $86 million to Rochester schools alone.

And the news could continue to get worse: a recent report issued by the Office of the New York State Comptroller revealed that without more state money, loans, or cuts, the Rochester City School District will run out of money by June. Currently, the district is on track to finish out the academic year with a $40.5 million deficit. State auditors also feel that the shortfall estimated by district officials is too low, with actual numbers being around $71 million. The majority of overspending, auditors found, is related to health and dental insurance, substitute teacher costs, and charter school tuition costs. And while veterans of the Armed Services can access programs like G.I. Bill benefits online to obtain help in paying for college expenses, it’s unclear as to how the City of Rochester will be able to receive financial assistance in providing quality education to its younger students — with or without more major changes.