RCSD suing city over proposed referendum on state takeover

July 26, 2019 06:14 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — The Rochester City School District has filed a lawsuit against the City of Rochester over Mayor Lovely Warren's proposal for the state to take over the district. 

Warren and new RCSD Superintendent Terry Dade had their first meeting Friday morning.


"It's clear that he [Dade] is already being sabotaged by the school board, less than five minutes after he left, I was served with the lawsuit. The process server literally walked right past him," Warren says.  

The lawsuit asks for an immediate injunction to prevent the city and Warren from adding a referendum on the November ballot. The proposed referendum would ask city voters to approve or reject a plan for the New York State Education Department to take over the district for five years.

"This is a hail-mary play by the city school district and it's sad because instead of focusing on educating our kids, they're focusing on suppressing their parents right to vote for the future of their kids," Mayor Warren says.

RCSD School Board President, Van White, believes the very opposite is true. Mayor Warren, he says, is asking parents to suppress their own rights by voting for a referendum that would take away their ability to vote for local school board members in the future.

"When there are disputes you can't duke it out, you have to go to the court system. So this is not irrational and anybody saying, 'oh my god'… don't forget our founding fathers set up a system if there are disputes, you don't break out the dueling guns and shoot each other, what you do is go to court and that's what we're doing," White explains.

White takes particular issue with a letter, sent to all city residents a few weeks ago, from the mayor explaining the referendum and her support of it.

"Her letter gives the impression that we were given a system that was operating on all 6 cylinders and we've screwed it up, we put sugar in the gas tank--that's just factually inaccurate," White tells News10NBC.

Over the last decade graduation rates have slowly and steadily increased.  But it's not just the content of the letter that the district and some legal experts are questioning, it's the fact that it was sent directly from the mayor on City Hall stationery and paid for with taxpayer dollars.

News10NBC's Jennifer Lewke: "As a lawyer yourself, do you believe that violated any regulations as far as advocating for something from your official position?"

Mayor Warren: "I didn't advocate, I educated… There's nothing wrong with me, from my standpoint, educating the citizens of Rochester that have called, asked me, stopped me to ask a question of, what does this mean? What does this mean in November? What would I be voting on?"

RCSD school board member Beatriz LeBron does not agree with the mayor.

"I'm extremely disturbed by the city's use of tax dollars to advocate for the state takeover through a very implicitly worded letter. No matter how you feel about the referendum, we should all be able to agree this was an egregious breach of trust," she tells News10NBC.   

Attorneys for RCSD say an immediate injunction is necessary to prevent the referendum from being printed on the ballot by the August 5, 2019, deadline and to ensure the city uses no further funding with regard to the referendum.  A judge will ultimately determine the mertis of the suit and set a timeline for hearings.  

Even if the referendum stays on the ballot and even if residents overwhelmingly support it, the NYS Legislature would still have to approve a state takeover and the NYS Department of Education would have to agree and have a plan on how to execute it.

At this point, New York State Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia has not said publically that she thinks a takeover is the best option. 


Jennifer Lewke

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