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State lawmakers fail to approve hundreds of millions in funding for RCSD

July 10, 2019 11:08 AM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — The students of the Rochester City School District are again caught in the middle of a bitter back and forth between adults.

This time, the arguing has delayed the third phase of the $1.4 billion School Modernization Act which is intended to upgrade schools, athletic fields, pools and technology for the students of RCSD.  

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Each phase of the Modernization Act requires state approval of the allocation of more money. Phase I is complete, Phase II is nearly finished and Phase III was set to begin this summer. It will be the most expensive yet at $615 million but state lawmakers went home for the summer without approving it.

As for who is to blame, there seems to be a lot of finger pointing going on when it comes to that question.   

Most schools in the City of Rochester were built more than 75 years ago. Many buildings and facilities are crumbling, antiquated and not offering city school students the same experience their suburban counterparts get. That's why the modernization plan was put into place back in 2011.

Nearly two dozen schools have been rehabbed so far but Phase III is the biggest undertaking yet.

"Schools No. 2, No. 4, No. 6 and Schools No. 22, No. 10 and 54 are left to be renovated," explains Allen Williams, chair of the School Modernization Board.

Some specifics in the plan call for new windows and a pool at Monroe High School, a new performing arts wing, gym and pool at East High School and a wing-by-wing renovation at Edison Tech, including a culinary arts student restaurant, a new gym, locker rooms and athletic fields.

The problem? The money it will take to complete the work never got approved by state lawmakers before they left for the summer.

"We are now going back to try and figure out what happened," Williams says. "Why didn't it pass? We thought we had covered all the bases and had the support of all the major stakeholders in the City of Rochester. My feeling is for whatever reason, people linked the fight that's going on, the battle that's going on in City Hall and with NYSUT over the school governance piece which is totally separate from the school modernization piece but politics being what it is in Albany, those two…we think are the reasons why it didn't pass this time around."

While denying politics are at play, members of our state delegation did start pointing the finger at one another when News10NBC called looking for answers. State Assemblyman David Gantt introduced the legislation with only three weeks left in the legislative session. Gantt tells News10NBC that Assemblyman Harry Bronson, a member of the education committee who does not support Mayor Lovely Warren's push for the state to take over the district, held it up.

Bronson denies Gantt's claims.

"It's a baseless allegation," Bronson says. "The reality is, as soon as I knew about the proposed legislation, I immediately called staff to work on it, asked them to try and get it done by June 19. There is absolutely no connection with the other issues relating to the school district."

Bronson says those in Albany wanted more information from Gantt and RCSD about some of the language in the bill to ensure accountability following a number of issues with how contracts were handed out during Phases I and II. They also requested additional information on how students would be transited to other schools during the renovations and clarification on certain language that may have allowed some of the funding to be used to put a dome over the soccer stadium that the city owns. That information and clarification, Bronson says, didn't come in time.

"It's not like we can just pass whatever we need to pass," he says. "We have to have support from the state education department and to get that support, you have to have background information that was insufficient at this point."

Joe Robach introduced the bill in the Senate. He says Senate leadership wouldn't take up the measure until it passed in the Assembly.

"I introduced that with plenty of time in the Senate to get it passed," Robach tells News10NBC. "I even said upfront if there needs to be changes to let me know. This is one my frustrations about not being in the majority anymore."

As for whether he thinks the bill was held up on purpose in Albany, Robach says, "For me, I won't allow that to get caught up in anything else. If others are doing that — it's not my style."

Regardless of who is at fault, what happens from here?  

"There is a cost for the delay in terms of both personnel and materials," explains Williams who says this delay could easily translate into added costs of approximately $45 to 50 million.

Phase III won't move forward until the funding is approved in Albany.

"It is our hope that if there is a special session between now and January that we would have the opportunity to resubmit our proposal or the legislation," Williams says.

Warren's spokesman Justin Roj tells News10NBC in a statement, "Our children deserve quality schools and our families need the jobs provided by the modernization program. It is unfortunate that this essential investment for our kids and families was delayed by Albany politics. Mayor Warren's fight to fix our schools and provide our children a fighting chance at life is about putting what's best for our City above politics. All of our state representatives need to do the same when it comes to modernizing our schools and providing jobs for our families."

The Rochester contingent of lawmakers tell News10NBC that they will be working throughout the summer to make sure the legislation is ready to go as soon as they get back into session, but there does seem to be a difference of opinion among them on whether any of the Modernization Act money should be used for a dome to cover the soccer stadium.  

Credits

Jennifer Lewke

Copyright 2019 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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