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State Regents Tell Rochester School Board to Work with Superintendent

Patti Singer

Rochester City School District Superintendent Terry Dade on Nov. 27 his plan for midyear staff reductions to help close a projected $64.8 million deficit by the end of the school year. File photo

The New York state Board of Regents has told the Rochester Board of Education to work with Superintendent Terry Dade “to make the difficult decisions necessary to close the over $60 million budget deficit” the Rochester City School District is facing.

The Dec. 9 letter to president Van White and the rest of the board is signed by Chancellor Betty A. Rosa, Vice Chancellor T. Andrew Brown and Regent Wade Norwood and written on behalf of the entire Board of Regents.

The letter reinforces an edict by acting Education Commissioner Shannon Tahoe that each board member receive fiscal management training by Feb. 15.

The letter reminds the Rochester board that it is “responsible for managing the district’s expenses within the confines of its appropriated funding.”

An external auditor’s report given Dec. 3 confirmed what Dade had been saying since late September, when the district announced its financial situation: overspending and underbudgeting in the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 school years created a shortfall. Dade has said that if the district did not take action, the deficit would be approximately $64.8 million by June 2020.

Dade has announced a plan to cut about $28 million in non-classroom spending and approximately another $14 million in staff reductions and cost avoidance. That still leaves about $20 million. Dade has said he planned to lobby the state for more funding.

On Dec. 5, teachers and parents protested before a school board meeting. On Dec. 9 and 10, students protested the proposed cuts.

The finance committee was scheduled to meet at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 10, and an update from Dade was on the agenda.

The letter from the regents didn’t address any state aid.

The letter reiterated the board’s fiduciary responsibilities. The letter stated that once funding is appropriated, the district shall not shall not go over that amount.

The letter also stated that the board “has a duty to keep itself intimately informed of the district’s finances and to manage such finances so as not to run afoul of this prohibition by spending more money than is appropriated to the district.”

There seemed to be no hints that the district had a budget problem. Board members had said they were given an impression that the budget was on track. The projected 2018-19 deficit did not come to light until an audit early this school year. The report delivered Dec. 3 by the external auditor mentioned an instance of a “lack of management oversight that contributed to the overspending” in 2018-19. The issue with the previous year led Dade to look at the budget for 2019-2020, which showed overspending and underbudgeting.

The letter concludes by saying the state Education Department is working with Dade to implement the plan to improve the district’s academic and fiscal programs.

New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta released the following statement in response to the regents’ letter:

“After speaking directly with state Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa, we are confident that the board and the chancellor are in no way supporting mid-year layoffs of Rochester educators. We share their commitment to collaborating to ensure the long-term financial stability of the city school district, but not through mid-year layoffs that would have a devastating impact on the education of Rochester’s children.”

To read the regents’ letter, click below.

This story has been updated with the response from New York State United Teachers.

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