ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren held a press conference to discuss a lawsuit the Rochester City School District is making against the City of Rochester over the proposed referendum for a state takeover of the district.
District officials want a judge to determine if the mayor’s proposed referendum on a state takeover is legal (full lawsuit below). Voters were set to vote on the proposal this November, and if passed, the initiative would ultimately go to to the state to decide if it would intervene.
“This is a Hail Mary effort by the district, and that is sad,” Warren said.
At Friday’s press conference, Mayor Warren dismissed the district’s lawsuit as “hypocritical.”
“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.
Earlier this week, Mayor Warren sent a letter to city voters about the possibility of a takeover. She calls it an educational letter, but some are claiming she is trying to influence voters.
RCSD School Board President Van White says the letter calls for people to give up their right to vote. He says the school’s problems won’t be fixed by pointing fingers.
“We certainly understand and invite and encourage the role of Albany, but if we’re going to turn our schools around, turn this city around, we’ve got to do it as a collective. There’s not one person that’s going to sit in the boat and row it,” White said Wednesday.
Warren maintains that the vote in November will still happen.
“I believe if we are able to proceed, and when we are able to proceed, the citizens of this city will show what they want, and they deserve that option,” Warren said.
Mayor Warren said she was meeting with new RCSD superintendent Terry Dade Friday morning, and as he was leaving, she was served with the lawsuit.
“It’s interesting that the lawsuit didn’t come up [in the meeting], but that’s OK,” Warren said.
The School Board released a statement Friday morning, saying in part:
“After much discussion and deliberation, the Board of Education has authorized the filing of a lawsuit against the City of Rochester. In essence, this action has been taken to prevent what is an illegal advisory referendum from being placed on the ballot in November, and avoid any more taxpayer money from being spent in support of this referendum.”
News 8 had an attorney look at the lawsuit. Michael Burger with Santiago Burger LLP says the issue is whether or not it’s a binding resolution.
“My understanding, from review of the court paper so far, is that advisory referendums are rarely appropriate, an advisory reference might be considered a political cover as oppose to an election to get something done and the district also alleges that the city is trying to improperly amend its own constitution, called the city charter,” said Michael Burger, with Santiago Burger LLP.
The attorney also has discussed whether the lawsuit itself is legal.
“It appears that the school district can sue the mayor over this they are seeking to protect both public funds and also to protect the integrity of the city charter and the school districts authority to control its own affairs,” said Burger.
The lawsuit has not been filed yet, board officials say it will be filed Monday.