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How RCSD got here: Timeline of events in district’s budget crisis

Education

A few of the key figures involved in the RCSD fiscal crisis, including New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (upper left), Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski (bottom left), Superintendent Terry Dade (center), Mayor Lovely Warren (top right), and School Board President Van White (bottom right). (News 8 WROC Photo Illustration)

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Controversy and conflict has swirled within the Rochester City School District for the past few months.

A multi-million dollar budget gap has led to student and teacher protests, major job cuts, a state comptroller’s audit, a federal investigation, a request from the city of Rochester to sever financial ties — and more.

Here’s how we got here:

September 19 — RCSD investigating concerns over discrepancy in budget

The Rochester City School Board notified state officials of a serious discrepancy in its budget.

School officials learned about the discrepancy following a routine year-end audit of the 2018-2019 budget on the night of September 18 and then released their initial statement the following morning. Officials believed at the time that the problem stemmed from overspending as a means to cover increased costs for special education programs.

At that time, there was no speculation on the exact figure regarding the budget discrepancy.

“It would not be responsible for us to speculate what the amount is, because we don’t know what the exact amount is,” remarked Van White. “I will tell you though, there is a concern,” said RSCD’s School Board President Van White.

September 22 — Rep. Morelle calls for DOJ investigation into RCSD budget shortfall

Congressman Joe Morelle (D-25) called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the Rochester City School District’s financial issues. Morelle called the finical deficit alarming, and said since the district gets some of its funding from the federal government, the DOJ should investigate.

The school district, at this point, had not shared the exact number of the shortfall, but Morelle cited published reports that suggested a financial gap of nearly $50 million — equivalent of a 5% overspend in RCSD’s 2018-19 budget.

Also on September 22, RCSD Superintendent Terry Dade — who was new to the district in July and inherited the financial troubles — released a video that confirmed the severity of the district’s budget issues. In the video Dade says “tough decisions will have to be made,” and he lays out a plan to begin addressing the the budget with “short term actions and long term plans.”

In the video, at the 1:10 mark, Dade says “I can assure you, I have no plans for a reduction of staff this year.”

Also on September 22, RCSD School Board member Beatriz LeBron publicly called on president Van White to step down from his leadership position over concerns of the budget crisis.

September 23 — City wants to sever financial ties with RCSD over budget shortfall

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren and city of Rochester officials called on New York state to sever the financial ties between the city and the Rochester City School District. This would mean the RCSD would be its own entity when it comes to finances.

If this were to happen, the RCSD would no longer need the city’s approval in the budget planning process.

City officials said if the district really overspent by tens of millions of dollars, which was an unknown amount at this point, there’s no way the city would be able to pay back the loan they took out on behalf of the district, so the price would fall on taxpayers.

However, the severing of financial ties is an issue ultimately left up to the state, which is why Warren sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, formally requesting for state intervention into the matter.

September 24 — NYS Comptroller DiNapoli will begin auditing RCSD finances

New York state’s chief fiscal officer, comptroller Tim DiNapoli, agreed to audit the finances for the Rochester City School District

DiNapoli instructed the Rochester comptroller’s office to put other work aside and focus on the Rochester City School District. In an Adam’s Interview, DiNapoli said his office would go line by line in an audit of the budget.

On the same day DiNapoli’s office announced they would be auditing the district, Mayor Warren slammed the RCSD, calling it a “broken system.”

“Potentially, if it’s as bad as we think that it is or has been reported or said, it can potentially cost our taxpayers millions of dollars in interest we’d have to pay, if it affects our bond rating. So for us, to have the financial responsibility and our tax payers to have the financial responsibility, and to rely on a system that is clearly broken, is wrong,” Warren said.

Meanwhile Rochester Teacher’s Association president Adam Urbanski said that day that layoffs would be the only option to make up the funds, which would mean fewer classes for students.

“Our students wouldn’t have any elective courses, they wouldn’t have any music or art of physical education or librarian or anything else that is not required by law,” Urbanski said.

September 26 — ‘Significant cuts’ loom due to $30 million budget shortfall

Rochester City School District Superintendent Terry Dade announced that the district’s reported 2018-2019 budget shortfall was approximately $30 million and that “significant cuts” will be made.

Previous reports indicated a $50 million discrepancy, but the $30 million amount is still a challenge for the new superintendent. While Dade said cuts are looming, he added that it was too early in the process to determine where those cuts would be made.

“These are the things that keep me up at night” Dade said during a press conference. “Making significant cuts while still serving our students and giving them the education they deserve.”

An email sent to district staff members that afternoon said “preliminary findings indicate certain areas where the district overspent” including:

  • Employee benefits
  • Teacher substitutes
  • Tuition (Charter)
  • Retirement benefits
  • Contract Transportation

September 30 — State senate bills could suspend RCSD school board, add state monitor to district

Two bills proposed by New York State Sen. Rich Funke (R-55) would significantly alter the organization of RCSD.

One proposal, Bill S6756, would direct RCSD to conduct a referendum regarding the suspension of the school board.

If approved, the superintendent would “assume administrative and budgetary decisions for the district in consultation with the department of education, for a period of five years.”

Another proposal, Bill S6755, would authorize a “monitor” for the district.

If approved, it would “authorize a state monitor for the Rochester City School District to provide direct oversight of the fiscal policies, practices, programs and decisions of such school district.”

October 8 — RCSD’s CFO resigns, plans in place for budget correction

The Chief Financial Officer of the RCSD, Everton Sewell, resigned as part of a Board of Education special audit meeting to address the budget issues.

At that meeting, further audits revealed the district’s student population had dropped nearly 25% in the last 17 years, and in the past four years RCSD had added an excess of 1,000 staff members.

Findings from the finance and audit team have also showed the district under budgeted in areas including:

  • BOCES Special Education Services
  • Charter School Tuition
  • Self-funded health insurance
  • Substitute Teachers
  • Retirement Benefits
  • Transportation

In a short term attempt to begin bridging the deficit, the district enacted a number of measures and potential actions, which included a hiring freeze, a number of programs to be put on hold until further review, contract negotiations, potential staff reductions, and more.

October 9 — NYS budget director says laws already exist to get district the help it needs

A top state official has called the Rochester City School District’s fiscal health “untenable” and says there are laws in the books to address “the chronic mismanagement and under-performance facing the school district.”

These strong words came from the New York State Budget Director Robert Mujica in a letter to Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren and the State Education Department interim commissioner.

While the letter offered up legal examples of how and why the city and state education department should intervene, it did not mention anything regarding a possible state takeover of the district, or anything about the city severing financial ties with the district, as Mayor Warren previously proposed.

The budget director offered some “immediate” recommendations for the district, city and state education department to pursue as they collectively work to sort through the $30 million budget shortfall. Those recommendations can be seen here.

October 10 — Gov. Cuomo weighs in

“If you see a problem, don’t point fingers, do something,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo on the RCSD while he was in town.

Cuomo says the Rochester city schools have been in trouble for a long period of time. He said the budget should be modified going forward. 

“Why does the City Council keep approving the same budget plan for the school district?” asked the governor.

October 18 — RCSD asks parents, students for ideas to solve $30M budget gap

In a letter address to district parents and students, Dade announced that RCSD had set up an email account to solicit feedback and possible solutions in bridging the budget gap. Dade wrote in part:

“One of the difficult tasks I have as Superintendent is crafting a budget, while making sure your needs are met as students. By now you may have heard about the budget deficit our District is currently facing. There is no doubt that some tough decisions will have to be made moving forward, and I need your help.

I have set up an e-mail address where you can give me your feedback and suggestions. I want to capture your voice in the conversation, so I can make informed decisions that will impact you in the best possible ways.”

October 22 — RCSD after school program postponed due to budget shortfall

The Encompass program at School 33 was postponed for a couple of weeks. The program itself is fully funded, and the teachers are ready to go, but the district isn’t providing the transportation necessary for the program to function.

Encompass is an after school, extended-learning program and has been running for decades. Parents said they found out just a few days before school was supposed to start, that it would be postponed until further notice.

Doreen Young, the treasurer of School 33’s PTA, said this program is important for many reasons.

“It seems like the first things that are cut are programs that deal with families and children,” Young said. “The issue might not be important on the totem pole, but it’s very important because we are in receivership.”

Being in receivership means the school is struggling and is being given a certain amount of time to improve performance.

October 25 — District, city reconcile differences, agree to work together

Despite an earlier request from Mayor Warren to the state for the city and district to sever financial ties, both sides came together in the form of letters between their respective leaders.

In a letter from Warren to Dade, the Mayor said in part:

“As you are aware, the city and school district finances are intricately linked. Given the situation that you are facing, I would like to extend an offer of assistance as you grapple with the current RCSD budget crisis.

There are many who want to dwell on how we got here and assess blame. While ascertaining exactly what happened is important will become clear once the comptroller’s team finishes its audit, we can best serve our children and taxpayers by working together to strengthen the RCSD’s fiscal position.l The challenges face in the 2018/19 budget will only be compounded in the 2019/20 and 2020/21 school year budgets.

It is imperative that we do all we can as the Mayor and Superintendent to work collaboratively to deal with this financial crisis that has the ability to impact the city’s bond rating, future School Modernization Projects, day-to-day operations of the school district, but most of all the children of our city.

In a response, Dade said to Warren in part:

“Since arriving in Rochester, I have outlined three main tenets or “rocks” as I call them, which are at the very core of the District’s direction moving forward.

  • Rock One: Changing the Narrative. We will celebrate the great stories in our schools.
  • Rock Two: Laser-like Focus on Teaching and Learning. We have strong teachers, families, and community members who collectively make great learners.
  • Rock Three: Unsurpassed Collaboration. We will work together as one Rochester family.

I am extremely grateful for your support as a partner in rock three, as I truly believe that we must work together as one Rochester family – District and City – to serve the children of this great city.

Like you, I know that the children of Rochester are our top, most precious priority, and working together collaboratively, we can provide them with the high-quality education they need and deserve to achieve success in the future.”

November 12 — RCSD’s cost-cutting plan first revealed

Included in a finance committee meeting, the district laid out their plans for staffing reduction.

Initial plans called for cuts of:

  • 18 administrators
  • 168 teachers
  • 38 paraprofessionals
  • 63 civil service hourly employees

November 13 — RCSD parents, students worried about impacts of budget cuts on classroom

Parents and students say classes are already packed as they are. Any more cuts will mean classrooms erupting, with the student to teacher ratio even worse than it is now.

An RCSD senior, Yabnel Coss said, “That’s negative. Just because alone, the student to staff ratio is big. With the budget cut it’s just going to get bigger.”

And parents agree.

“The children of today, are the children of tomorrow — our future. How can we proceed in life and prosper if they don’t have the right education and the right needs,” said the parent of an RCSD student, Kenneth Smith.

A statement from the Rochester City School District said they’re working hard to ensure students will still get the best education and ensure stability as they navigate their financial challenges.

RCSD officials say the proposed cuts won’t have a dramatic impact on class sizes.

“Prior to Superintendent Dade’s proposed reductions in staff, the average class size for all K-6 classrooms districtwide is 19.2 students per class,” said Brendan O’Riordan, RCSD Director of Information. “After the staff reductions have been completed, the average class size for all K-6 classrooms districtwide will be 20.25 students per classroom. That is well within the contractual obligations of 25 students for K-3 and 26 students for 4-6. 

November 15 — 2 RCSD administrators let go as part of district’s ‘restructuring process’

Two Rochester City School District administrators have been “discontinued” as part of the district’s efforts to fix their budget.

A staff email was sent out that said two deputy superintendents, Dr. Elizabeth Mascitti-Miller and Dr. Cecilia Griffin Golden, were discontinued for “reasons of economy and reorganization.”

Dr. Elizabeth Mascitti-Miller made more than $150,000 in 2018, and more than $180,000 in 2019.

November 19 — RCSD names Robert Franklin as district’s new Chief Financial Officer

RCSD named Robert Franklin as the new Chief Financial Officer for the district.

CFO is not a new title for Franklin, who currently serves in the same position for Monroe County, a job he’s held since he was appointed in 2013 by then-county executive Maggie Brooks. Current Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo called Franklin an “integral” part of her team.

“I’m an accountant, I’m a bean counter, but I think the best way I help our program managers — whether it’s with the county or with soon to be in the RCSD — is meeting with the school principals, all the managers in the district to understand what their needs are,” Franklin said. “I say no quite a bit, but I try not to say ‘no’ to everyone, rather, ‘no, but.’ And then have a conversation about what can we do.”

Franklin will start his work officially on January 2, 2020

November 26 — RCSD cost cutting plan leaves teachers nervous

The plan to cut costs in the Rochester City School District has left teachers nervous and upset about potential loss of jobs.

Teachers were put on notice that information could be revealed as early as the following month.

Dade recommended a 5% staff reduction — which would save the district close to $10 million.

Also on November 26, a meeting of the school board’s HR committee presented a staff reduction timeline.

November 27 — RCSD also overspent in 2019-2020 budget

While the 2018-2019 budget was at the heart of the district’s fiscal issues, a further audit discovered that RCSD was also overspending in 2019-2020, by more than $30 million

Superintendent Terry Dade gave a timeline in which he talked about the grand total deficit of $64.8 million and added that it would need to be addressed this school year.

The $64.8 million figure added to the initial $30 million gap, and was a result of another instance of over spending in the approved 2019-2020 budget, on top of the overspending in the year prior.

Important to note, that the potential $64.8 figure was a projected deficit for the end of this upcoming school year and was forecasted in the event that the district did nothing to correct the shortfall.

To bridge the budget. $28 million, or 44%, of the gap would come from cuts outside of the classroom and would be non-staff related. $6.8 million, or 10%, would reflect reductions from people within the Rochester Teachers Association.

In addition to cuts, Dade said the district will also ask for $20 million from the state to offset the massive budget shortfall.

“With regards to additional services and ‘nice to haves’, that is where we’ll see the biggest hit,” Dade said.

December 2 — Federal government launches investigation into RCSD finances

The federal government starts an investigation into the financial problems at RCSD.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issues a subpoena for documents from the district. The SEC’s job is to protect investors and the spending of tax money.

December 3 — RCSD layoff plan: 152 teachers, 32 non-teachers, 12 administrators and more

RCSD announces plans to lay off 152 teachers, 32 non-teaching employees, 22 paraprofessionals and 12 administrators, in a revised staff reduction scenario released by the district.

“Although we still do not know which teachers will be laid off, affected teachers are supposed to get their notices from their principals this Friday,” Urbanski wrote. “The mid-year layoffs, if enforced as planned, will have an adverse impact on all of us and on our students.”

Superintendent Terry Dade has previously promised to limit staff reductions to 5% — but the Teachers Association says that’s still too high and will have a negative impact on students.

December 5 — RCSD teachers rally against proposed layoffs

RCSD teachers weren’t happy about proposed layoffs in the district, and that’s why they gathered in a show of force to protest the decision.

An RCSD official says staff reductions won’t have a dramatic impact on class sizes.

“Prior to Superintendent Dade’s proposed reductions in staff, the average class size for all K-6 classrooms districtwide is 19.2 students per class,” said Brendan O’Riordan, RCSD Director of Information. “After the staff reductions have been completed, the average class size for all K-6 classrooms districtwide will be 20.25 students per classroom.  That is well within the contractual obligations of 25 students for K-3 and 26 students for 4-6.”

Superintendent Terry Dade said that night was his toughest night on the job so far.

“I care about every single individual in this organization,” Dade said.

December 6 — RCSD teachers, employees receive notice of layoffs

Some teachers in the Rochester City School District received notice informing them that they would be losing their jobs.

Rochester Paraprofessionals Union President Angie Rivera says 22 paraprofessionals in the district were told they would be laid off and he says of those positions are among the lowest-paying jobs in all of RCSD.

A formal vote is still set to take place December 19 on the staffing reduction plan.

December 9 — RCSD students protest against teacher layoffs, march out of schools

Students at some schools in the Rochester City School District protested on Monday after more than 150 teachers learned they could be out of a job due to budget cuts.

Students at the School of the Arts, East High School, Wilson, World of Inquiry and several others participated in protests or walkouts on Monday morning to show their support for teachers.

Students and teachers are calling on the board to consider a plan that would hold off on cuts until the end of the school year.

Rochester Teacher Association President Adam Urbanski said it would allow more time to get financial help from the state.

December 10 — RCSD students continue protests against teacher layoffs

For the second consecutive morning, students in the Rochester City School District marched out of the classrooms and took to the streets to protest proposed staffing cuts in the district.

RCSD students demonstrated outside of East High School and Monroe High School Tuesday morning.

December 13 — RCSD, teachers union working to reduce or eliminate mid-year staff cuts

Dade met with leaders from the RTA leaders with a plan that could reduce or eliminate proposed mid-year layoffs.

Dade says RTA president Adam Urbanski spurred the discussion with the district. Dade says the talks have been good and productive and that everyone involved is doing their best to make this work.

However, Dade said if the mid-year layoffs were prevented, he could not commit to eliminating staff reductions down the line. He said the district’s budgeting would rely on factors presently unknown, like the availability of state aid.

Even as productive discussions continue, the December 19 vote deadline still loomed.

December 17 — Concessions to eliminate RCSD’s mid-year layoffs ‘highly unlikely’

With the clock ticking, Dade says it’s “highly unlikely” that the district and union could come to concessions terms before the school boar is set to vote on the staffing reduction plan.

With the vote less than 48 hours away, it appears the job cuts will still happen.

December 19 — RCSD board approves staff cuts with 5-2 vote, 109 jobs on the chopping block

The school board voted to move forward to cut teachers and staff within the district. The vote came down to five for it and two against.

It was a passionate night ahead of the vote as 94 people addressed board members.

Although the original plan called for cuts of more than 150 teachers, 32 non-teaching employees, 22 paraprofessionals and 12 administrators, just before board meeting, district officials announced that the district allocated enough resources to reduce the layoffs to 109 total positions.

January 13 — RTA, students and parents to rally in Albany on Tuesday

Groups representing the district and students went to Albany to rally for support for Rochester schools in an attempt to secure funding to bridge the budget deficit.

“We’re in a critical point that I believe has been building up to this point and it has kind of exploded,” Rochester City School District Board Commissioner Natalie Sheppard said.

The president of RTA said if the district doesn’t receive additional funding, there could be additional layoffs, and additional disruption of leaning for students.

Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this story with all RCSD finance developments.

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