RCSD sues City of Rochester over referendum question

Education

MONROE COUNTY, N.Y. (WROC) — Should the state take over Rochester City Schools and get rid of the local school board?

Mayor Lovely Warren says yes, and she wants to put the question to voters in November. The city school district is suing to stop the referendum and both sides made their points in court on Thursday.

The big question in the courtroom: who has the authority to remove the Board of Education, the state or the city?

A lawyer for RCSD said a public vote would simply be an “opinion poll” and shouldn’t be allowed on the ballot because only the state legislature can remove the board. The city’s lawyer said a public vote is required under state law to set the stage for a takeover.

Michael Burger, a lawyer not involved in the case, said there’s a “chicken and egg” issue here.

“You have the city on the one side saying, ‘once we act, the state will follow through and this is the first step’, and you have the district saying, ‘no, the first step gets taken by the state and this is kind of political cheerleading; you’re trying to gin up support’,” said Burger.

The judge 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.

“She’s very concerned with them voting and she’s also very concerned with the health of our school district and she’s recognizing that the school district needs a bit of help, so she wants people to come out and vote so their voice can be heard,” said corporation counsel for the city, Tim Curtin.

The city also raised a counterclaim this week, arguing if they lose this case and it’s determined the city could have suspended the pay for board members earlier this year without a referendum then the board members should have to give back some of their salary they’ve received this year.

The judge said he will have a written decision by Friday.

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