By Carol Elizabeth Owens
In a letter dated September 23, 2019, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren made a formal request to New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo requesting that he “work with [his] partners in government to completely sever the connection between the City (of Rochester) and the (Rochester City) School District (RCSD).”
Warren’s request emerged swiftly after news reports last weekend revealed a “$50 million budget deficit” that was found by the RCSD. Notably, to date, RCSD has “no explanation” about this newly discovered substantial monetary gap, and the district “refuses to provide … financial details” regarding its multi-million dollar shortfall.
The Rochester City Council gave a responsive statement about this situation, in which Council President Loretta Scott and Finance Chair Malik Evans express their “deep concern” about the “troubling” recent RCSD audit findings. City Council expects “the District [to] act expeditiously to share all details of the audit and provide a corrective action plan to the City Council and the public.”
Indeed, Mayor Warren appears to echo City Council’s concerns. Her letter to Governor Cuomo asks for an investigation of “the District’s finances for the sake of our children and their families.”
The city’s taxpayers certainly have a stake in how RCSD handles its budget, Warren states, noting “our taxpayers are gravely concerned about the state of the District and the potential consequences to not only our children, but also the City’s fiscal health.”
Warren cites specific potential impact on the city’s ability to “complete critical infrastructure projects” (such as ROC the Riverway) if RCSD’s financial problems somehow result in negative consequences for the city and says additional possible negative consequences could include a decreased credit rating in the municipal bond markets. Such a situation would make it more difficult for the City of Rochester to fund municipal improvement projects.
RCSD’s budget gap revelation comes after complicated series of recent legal and political challenges involving the City of Rochester’s attempt to temporarily place New York State in control of RCSD, and establish mayoral oversight. More specifically, by court order and decision dated August 2, 2019, Monroe County Supreme Court Justice Scott Odorisi determined that the City of Rochester’s “proactive proposals for remedying [RCSD’s negative] situation are admirable, but not legally permissible.”
Justice Odorisi’s order declined to permit the City of Rochester to place a referendum on the ballot (for a vote by the City’s resident citizens) regarding the question of mayoral control. Mayor Warren stated that Justice Odorisi’s rejection of the City’s proposed action is a “grave injustice” to the City of Rochester and its residents. Warren indicated that the City of Rochester plans to appeal Justice Odorisi’s decision.
With regard to the RCSD’s reported financial dilemma, a Rochester City Council meeting will be held on October 10, 2019 at 5:30 p.m. RCSD’s Finance Department, and the Board of Education’s Finance Committee are requested to attend the meeting and “provide further details” about the recent audit (including its results) and “answer questions” about RCSD’s finances.