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NYS Comptroller: Without more 'severe' cuts or 'intervention' RCSD will be out of money by June

Berkeley Brean
Updated: January 23, 2020 07:58 PM
Created: January 23, 2020 03:41 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — The Office of the New York State Comptroller released an initial report into the finances of the Rochester City School District.

The report says the situation is not good and if there aren't more cuts, more loans or more state money, the district will run out of money by the end of June. 

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Click here to read the report.

Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean interviewed with the man leading the investigation 

He asked: What is the number one takeaway of the report? Who's responsible for the budget problem? How did this happen? Was there anything criminal? 

First, the root of the problem. 

The OSC report says the school district's estimate on how much money it was going to take in in 2018-19 and 2019-20 was "reasonable."

But the amount of money it projected it was going to spend was "severely underestimated." 

For instance, in the 2018-19 budget, the OSC report says RCSD budgeted $69.7 million for health care. It ended up paying $85.6 million. The report says RCSD budgeted $10 million for substitute teachers. It ended up paying $17.8 million. 

For the 2019-20 budget, the report says the school board approved the spending of $8 million from the district's "fund balance" that did not exist.

The report "commends" Superintendent Terry Dade's cost-saving plan, which the school board approved. 

On Dec. 19, 2019, 109 teachers were laid off, plus another 46 staff members. But the report says the plan does not save the district as much money as the superintendent and school board think. 

Dade started at the district in July 2019. 

Compare the numbers in the report.

_______________________

Here are the RCSD estimates: 

Initial Deficit: $68.4 million

Reductions/Efficiencies: $28 million

Staff cuts: $9.7 million

Deficit balance: $27.1 million 

_______________________

Here are the Comptroller's estimates: 

Initial Deficit: $70.7 million

Reductions/Efficiencies: $21.6 million

Staff cuts: $8.6 million

Deficit balance: $40.5 million

So based on the Comptroller's report, when the superintendent, members of the school board and perhaps the mayor go to Albany and ask the governor and Department of Education for money to close the gap, they need to be asking for approximately 50% more than they thought. 

In the report, the Comptroller's office says, "absent additional severe budget cuts, short-term borrowings or outside intervention, the District will not have sufficient resources to meet its financial obligations by the end of the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020."

"The greatest takeaway should be is that the problem is not going to go away and it is potentially bigger than initially estimated," said Elliott Auerbach, Deputy Comptroller, in the division of local government and school accountability.

His team led the investigation. 

Brean: "So who is responsible for that?"

Auerbach: "It's hard for me to point fingers at this stage in the game."

Brean: "It has been a difficult year for students and teachers in the city school district. But it's difficult because this happened. So I think they have a right to know who's responsible for making this happen."

Auerbach: "I agree with you. And at this stage in the game I don't think I'm comfortable with pointing fingers."

Brean: "In your investigation, did you find anything criminal?"

Auerbach: "I'm not at liberty to talk about that right now."

Brean: "Because why?"

Auerbach: "Because I have no sense if there was any criminality at all. But again, Berkeley, we're not finished."

Auerbach says the Comptroller's office will issue a full audit sometime in the spring. 


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