ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — New York state’s chief fiscal officer, comptroller Tim DiNapoli, has agreed to audit the finances for the Rochester City School District, according to New York state assemblyman Harry Bronson.
DiNapoli was called upon by Bronson and New York state Sen. Rich Funke following a reported $50 million discrepancy found in an end-of-year audit of the 2018-2019 budget, announced last week by RCSD officials.
As a result of the budget gap, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren has asked the state for permission to let the city sever financial ties with the district so if future financial issues arise in the district, taxpayers won’t be responsible for the money.
Mayor Warren’s letter to Gov. Cuomo regarding RCSD
However, Warren’s request is a matter ultimately left up to the state.
A statement from the comprtroller’s office said:
“State Comptroller DiNapoli will examine the finances of the Rochester City School District. His auditors are in the process of scheduling an audit with district officials that will identify the cause of the apparent 2018-19 year-end budget shortfall. Given the serious nature of this matter, auditors will be redirected from other projects and will begin this work in early October. During the course of the audit, which will take several months to complete, the office will not comment on specifics until the audit is complete.”
Regarding the reported $50 million amount, RCSD School board President Van White says they don’t know the exact amount at this time
“There is no confirmation yet,” White said. “And I hear people talked about ranges. I heard somebody say $50 million, that’s just not responsible and that’s why were not tempted or conjured into giving a number that we don’t have.”
White says that education falls under the jurisdiction of the state and he expects a review from the state commissioners of education.
Enuky DeSantis, spokesperson for the New York State Department of Education released a statement, saying in part:
“The reports about Rochester City School District’s financial situation are deeply troubling. The Department is in contact with district officials to help assess the financial situation and determine appropriate next steps to ensure that Rochester students receive the education they need and deserve.”
Lawmakers demand answers
Public officials at nearly every level of government have spoken out about the budget shortfall.
Congressman Joe Morelle has called on the Department of Justice to Investigate the situation at the federal level.
“Something has to be done. This cannot continue and we need answers and we need them quickly,” Morelle said.
State Sen. Rich Funke has called on DiNapoli and New York state Attorney General Letitia James to being auditing and issue subpoenas.
“Kids who want to learn are currently suffering at the hands of an incompetent school board at RCSD — we must act and act now,” Funke said in the letter.
Rochester City council released a statement, saying in part:
“We are deeply concerned and will be monitoring this situation. It is our expectation that the District act expeditiously to share all details of the audit and provide a corrective action plan to the City Council and the public.”
Superintendent says no cuts
New Superintendent Terry Dade released a video via social media Sunday, addressing parents, students, and staff. He said he has no plans for a reduction of staff this year.
Dade says a finance and audit team will review the deficit, and they should have more answers by the end of the week.
Parents, students worry about layoffs and program cuts
Rochester Teacher’s Association President Adam Urbanski is concerned — considering $50 million is about 5% of the district’s entire budget, and roughly the salary of 600 teaching jobs. Urbanski says layoffs are the only option to make up the funds, meaning 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.
Past students are also worried. Jimmy Knight went to a city school and he says the conditions weren’t great to begin with and the schools can’t afford to cut back.
“It’s gonna affect a lot of people especially the youth. And that’s why it gets to me. I’m a youth myself I’ve been there. It’s gonna affect a lot of people in a bad way,” Knight said.
RCSD Board members at odds
RCSD school board member Beatriz Lebron published a letter Sunday calling for White’s to step down from his leadership position. White told us he would not be stepping down.
The RCSD budget for 2018-2019 was $915,945,579.