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Stimulus Money in RCSD Budget is ‘Once in a Lifetime Opportunity’

Patti Singer

The Rochester City School District’s Board of Education passed a nearly billion-dollar budget for the 2021-22 school year that is bolstered by government money from COVID-19 relief packages and based on recommendations from the state monitor.

The budget needs to be approved by City Council, which votes in June.

“This budget is not only balanced and educationally sound, it also continues to address the needs of students in one of the highest-needs districts in the state of New York,” Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small said in a news release announcing the budget.

“District data shows we are continuing on the right trajectory to help more students graduate even during a year complicated by learning in a remote learning environment while also dealing with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. “This budget continues to fund an increase in academic achievement for students while maintaining fiscal responsibility.”

The budget passed by a 6-to-1 vote. Board member Amy Maloy voted no.

The advocacy group the Children’s Agenda said the district has a “once in a lifetime opportunity because of millions in stimulus money,” but the budget lacks “a clear path forward.” In its analysis, the Children’s Agenda said that without a vision and road map, the district risks continuing to be hampered by its structural deficit and low academic achievement.”

The budget totals $986,100,909, an increase of more than $58 million from the current academic year.

The budget is built upon 96 recommendations in the RCSD’s academic and financial plans developed by state monitor Shelley Jallow, appointed because of the district’s pattern of budget shortfalls.

Recommendations from the financial plan include:

  • Elimination of the revenue anticipation note. (RAN is a short-term loan with a low interest rate)
  • Upgrading the district’s financial management system
  • Upgrading the district’s special education management system
  • Recommendations from the academic plan include:
  • Updating districtwide comprehensive program, materials, textbooks, and assessment tools
  • Establishing program evaluation arm to analyze effectiveness of initiatives
  • ummer school to address learning loss
  • Multi-tiered support systems initiative
  • Professional development

According to the district, the budget lays the foundation for “a shift from constantly focusing on the district’s fiscal stability to the prioritization to academics and student performance.”

To that end, it supports the district’s “core belief that students are its first priority and will drive each decision that is made” and that the district makes every decision “with equity, transparency, and in the best interests of its students.”

The Children’s Agenda, which also reviews the city and county budgets, analyzed the RCSD spending plan with recommendations in five areas: budget transparency, school climate, students with disabilities, multilingual learners, and early childhood education.

The Children’s Agenda said it made the recommendations in partnership with students, parents and community agencies.

The budget includes $307.9 million in federal stimulus money from different programs. The money has to be spent over the next three to four years and additional money from the state.

“If the federal stimulus and (state) Foundation Aid increases are used to maintain the status quo, it will fail to deliver much needed improvements for Rochester’s students,” according to a statement.

The Children’s Agenda recommends, among other things: spending on nutrition, recruiting teachers of color, bringing special education and multilingual education into compliance and improving school climate.

“For the first time in living memory there are enough resources to add programs and supports for students and make real structural changes.  It is the role and responsibility of the RCSD to engage as many parents, students and community members as possible in deciding how this transformational funding will be spent.”