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Judge rules against city in RCSD referendum lawsuit


Court paperwork: City's proposals are admirable, but not legally permissible.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — A judge has ruled against the City of Rochester in regards to a lawsuit filed by the Rochester City School District over the voter referendum on a possible state takeover of the district.

Court paperwork said “The Court is compelled to begin by acknowledging the great challenges facing the Rochester City School District, and the utmost importance a sound education is in the lives of our children. The City Respondents’ proactive proposals for remedying the situation are admirable, but legally permissible.”

“This is a good day I don’t want that to be missed,” said RCSD Board of Eduction president Van White. “This is a good day, this is good news for our children our families the law, and the state because it recognizes a day of the importance of participatory democracy.”

The city’s proposed referendum was denied because, according to court paperwork, “a municipality cannot avoid governmental responsibility and shift the burden of decision to a public poll,” and because the state, not the city, occupies the entire field of public education.

“The City’s Respondent’s actions — although unquestionably well intended — are matters reserved for state consideration,” court paperwork said.

All in all, only the state can decide if the state will takeover and as of now, no referendum will be on the ballot when residents vote in November.

RCSD Board of Education member Willa Powell took to Facebook in response to Friday’s ruling:

Last week, Mayor Warren called district official “hypocrites” for filing their lawsuit.

“The hypocrisy is staggering, if you feel like fixing our broken schools, you empower the people of Rochester, you empower them to have a voice, but instead the school district is trying to disenfranchise them,” Mayor Warren said.

The judge residing over the case also questioned a letter the mayor sent to voters a couple of weeks ago. The district said this letter is persuasive and pushing an agenda. The city said the letter simply told voters to vote, not how to vote. Court paperwork filed Friday said this about the letter:

“The letter’s message is a loud and clear endorsement of the referendum and strongly suggests that the voter should be too. Although the letter does not squarely ftell the residents what their vote should be, i.e. yes or no, it nevertheless conveys that same recommendation. From the letter’s phrasing, the author’s position is evident. In Fact, the letter’s ending asks the reader to “join with me and vote.” In isolation, this could appear innocuous, but construed with the entirety of the letter, it smacks of prohibited advocacy.”

The judge also ruled against the city’s counterclaim and will not require the Board of Education to give back their salaries since July 8.

The city says they’ll be appealing the decision.

Mayor Warren responded to the judge’s decision with a letter Friday afternoon, that read in a video on Facebook:

To the Children of the City of Rochester:

Today is truly a sad day. You and your families have suffered for decades. Told to accept and be grateful for a broken system. A system that fails to educate and teach you the very knowledge necessary to succeed. A system that leaves far too many of you without a fighting chance at life. A system that denies you access to even a faint glimmer of the American dream.

Today’s court decision is a grave injustice. But, unfortunately, I am not surprised. I am sure that you are not surprised. It is just the most recent example where adults twist and abuse the law to protect themselves – at you and your family’s expense. You are the unseen, the unheard, the forgotten. You live, struggle and suffer while politicians, bureaucrats and the supposed givers of charity profit and pay only lip service, if that, to your reality.

It’s no accident that the court filings of the school district fail to mention you and your families. Not once are you the concern of school district and its lawyers. Because this court case was about one thing: denying you the right to be heard. Denying your parents and grandparents the right to vote. Protecting their ability to profit while continuing to deny you opportunity.

What is happening in Rochester is no different than what is happening in Washington. We have the powerful working every day to protect the status quo and deny you the opportunity to live to your fullest potential. Why? I believe they see you as a threat. That denying you a quality education is the only way to protect what they have. That is truly sad and shameful. Because I know that we can, and we will, one day, lift each other up. That your very education is the key to a better city, a better community and better nation for all. That your success is what will deliver and strengthen the American Dream for all people regardless of where we were born, what we look like or who we love.

I will continue to fight every day to achieve this vision; to dismantle what is broken and build together a system that will provide you a quality education and a fighting chance at life. We will appeal this unjust court decision. We will take this fight to the halls of Albany and demand our legislators act. We will ensure that your voice is heard, and you are provided the education and opportunity that are your right.

We know that we will win this fight because we have won before. In our very city, our guiding light, Frederick Douglass shared with us what is needed from all people of caring, love and conscience today:

“At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed … For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.”

Douglass spoke of our nation, certainly the same applies to our community today. I ask all of you to heed his words and recommit ourselves to this fight. We cannot rest until each of you has access to knowledge necessary to fully share in the future of our city and, indeed, the entirety of the American Dream.

Join me in this fight. Don’t despair, but work hard and, together, let our voices be heard in every hall of power. Together, we will deliver the change that builds better schools, a better city and a better community for all. Because as Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”

Mayor Lovely A. Warren
City of Rochester

Full lawsuit:

RCSD vs. Cit of Rochester Decision — August 2, 2019 by Matthew Driffill on Scribd

Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.

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