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Governor calls for 'dramatic' steps to reform RCSD

Charles Molineaux
Updated: October 10, 2019 09:41 AM
Created: October 09, 2019 08:03 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a need for “dramatic” and potentially unpopular steps to reform the Rochester City School District.

Those moves may even involve placing the district under the control of the city’s mayor, a move he said he would support.

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As the district confronted a shortfall for its 2018-2019 school year that is still being tallied but estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars, Cuomo on Wednesday urged both the Rochester City Council and the New York State Education Department to take action.

“The state education department can take over failing school districts. They have a number of remedies,” the governor said. “They can put schools in receivership, they can put together a financial control board. While those remedies are all dramatic and could be politically problematic, those are all viable options.”

Such measures, as well as the idea of having the department step in to oust and replace some school board members, were suggested by New York State Budget Director Robert Mujica in a Tuesday letter to Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren and State Education Department Interim Commissioner Elizabeth Berlin.

During his Wednesday visit to Irondequoit, Cuomo addressed another possible remedy: putting Rochester’s school system under mayoral control. 

"They have to say what they want to do,” he said. “Do you want to have [as one] one assemblyman suggested mayoral control? Do you want to put the mayor in charge of the school system? That would require legislation. I would support it"          

Such legislation has been put forth by Assemblyman David Gantt. He has repeatedly proposed a bill to put the Rochester school system under the mayor's control, as is the case in New York City. 

The bill has never gained any traction in the New York State Legislature.

“We’ve been trying to get that done for about 10 years now,” Gant told News10NBC. "We get no results on behalf of those children. That's unacceptable, and it should've been unacceptable a long time ago. I'm glad the governor made the decision that that's what he would like to see done."

The proposal received a dim reception from Van White, president of the Rochester School Board. 

“How about we stop talking about mayoral control and start talking about community control?” White asked. “[That] includes a vigorous, lively, Board of Education that debates, vigorously, the issues and solutions before us.”

White complained that criticism of the district was unfair when the finances of RCSD were compared to those of the state and the city, which have the power to tax or enhance revenues in other ways when they encounter budget deficits. He also accused critics of ignoring the progress Rochester schools have made in improving graduation rates.

“Why would you upend an apple cart when you know that a good number the apples in the cart are producing, are sound?” he asked.

As for the mayor? 

“I appreciate Governor Cuomo’s willingness to support legislation to provide a total reset of the Rochester City School District,” she said in a statement.

Earlier this year, Warren had attempted to lay the groundwork for a state intervention in the city’s schools by supporting a referendum by the voters on a state takeover. 

That referendum was thrown out in court. In her response, the mayor emphasized the particulars, saying “the details of any partnership, including one involving mayoral leadership, are critical in order to move forward on behalf of Rochester’s most vulnerable citizens, our children.”


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