RCSD passes $983M budget on 4-3 vote, whatever happened to that catastrophic deficit?

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ROCHESTER N.Y. (WHEC) — The biggest school district in our area passed its budget Tuesday night. It’s nearly a billion dollars to run the Rochester City School District.

It got us thinking: Whatever happened to the catastrophic budget deficit the district revealed just before COVID hit?

We asked the RCSD interim CFO: Is the problem fixed? He answered yes and no.

"Yes in that it’s been closed and resolved," Vernon Connors said. "The problem back in 2019 was that the district had more resources than they could afford to pay for."

Connors said the district is past that point.

In fact, it’s now trying to hire people.

The reason he said yes and no is that the $983 million budget uses $10 million in savings and is funded with significant federal aid that only covers the next few years.

So now they have to figure out how to operate without that money.

"So that in two years or so we don’t find ourselves back where we were in 2019," Connors said.

The problem in 2019 wasn’t a one-time deficit. The district was over-spending every month.

Brean: "Is that problem solved?"

Connors: "That problem is solved."

Brean: "Did you vote in favor or against this budget?"

Beatriz LeBron, school board commissioner: "I voted against the budget."

Beatriz LeBron is on the school board and chair of the finance committee. The vote passed 4-3.

LeBron voted no because she says the details on where the money is going is vague. I asked her where she thinks we stand on the catastrophic deficit from 2019.

"That deficit is not fully closed because we’re still borrowing within this budget $10 million from our fund balance, which is essentially our savings," she said.

Brean: "Is there anything you like in the budget?"

LeBron: "I do appreciate that there is almost a $3 million dollar increase for food services."

Here is part of the email statement we received from RCSD communication director Marisol Lopez:

This budget also provides the opportunity to maintain a healthy fund balance, which ensures fiscal stability and responsibility. While a reduction in operating expenses, unfilled and frozen vacant positions, out-of-district travel, and transitioning some general fund expenditures to ARP and CRRSA occurred, this budget reflects a commitment to our scholars and staff.

Highlights include:

  • Funding for additional social workers, increased capacity for the ROC Restorative team, and increases in school health services.
  • A new science curriculum that includes materials aligned to new science measures. Scholars will have access to new state-of-the-art equipment, bringing them into a 21st century learning environment.
  • Stronger Multi-Tiered Support Systems (MTSS) and compliance regulations to provide academic interventions and supports for Students with Disabilities.
  • Fortified resources for Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE) to support ELL students who transitioned from their country to ours.
  • Receivership schools will have greater supports for staff development, programming for foundational skills, and the ability for school leaders to more independently respond to their school’s needs.
  • Aligned opportunities for job-embedded professional development. District-wide programming will center on literacy training, project management, leadership capacity, and opportunities for collaboration between departments.
  • An additional $3M in food service to upgrade meal options, including rice and pasta bowls, salad bars, more plant based entrees for vegetarian scholars, and hot meals.
  • An increase in family engagement by providing a platform for every school to communicate with families in multiple languages.
  • Implementation of the Data Wise system to provide continuous improvement.
  • A high school redesign, where every secondary school will participate in visioning sessions with students and our entire community to create schools of the future.
  • School beautification and learning spaces that are more responsive and inviting to students.
  • Over 30 different summer programs for students in grades K-12 that focus on academics, arts, sports, career and technical education, and STEAM.

RCSD’s enrollment is approximately 22,000. Twenty years ago it was 35,000.

Vernon Connors says about 20% of the budget goes to students who don’t attend district schools. He said they attend charter schools, private schools or are in urban-suburban.

There are three charter schools opening in September.

The RCSD is seeking families’ input about school climates in an online survey that will be available until May 31. Click here to take it.