Updated: November 18, 2020 11:17 PM
Created: November 18, 2020 10:49 PM
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — A state overseer’s plan to improve academics and finances for the Rochester school system is getting skepticism from parents over cuts it calls for, as well as what it doesn’t call for.
The state’s monitor, Shelly Jallow, went over her proposals before the school board in a virtual meeting Wednesday night and got passionate feedback from parents and teachers.
"What is the main focus? Is it the budget, or is it our kids?" asked Rochester school grandparent Cynthia Rochet, who says she has read the draft plan and worries about its recommendations, like reductions in the numbers of teachers.
"That's limiting resources. For our kids. And, again, that increase in classroom [sizes], where is the benefit?’" Rochet asked.
“I see our school district as a boat in a storm,” exclaimed parent Laura Smith as she joined the online meeting.
Jallow’s plan calls for a return to neighborhood schools, new strategies for fixing the worst-performing schools, new textbooks, and, yes, "rightsizing" staff considering Rochester's shrinking student body.
"RCSD should align district resources according to a declining student population,” she read from the report’s conclusions.
"Yes we do have fewer students now than we did in the 1970s or 80s or 90s,” countered school board president Van White, “But the population that we're dealing with has a tremendous number of challenges that they didn't have."
“We need to stop cutting and the reductions at the classroom level,” exclaimed parent Megan Reddington during the meeting’s public comments. “Chop from the top, not from the bottom. We cannot afford to continue to lay off teachers."
Some parents and teachers called for the district to demand more resources from suburban school districts or a merging of school districts across Monroe County. They also demanded more emphasis on getting more funds out of the state, and the federal government, to fix the district’s budget shortfall, still projected at almost $90 million.
"I think we will find that we have some resources to fill that hole in Washington DC,” White said. “The only answer isn’t just ‘cut cut cut.’ Sometimes leaders in Albany and in Washington have to step up and provide for those additional needs that were unanticipated.”
But Jallow called for school leaders to have the "courage" to step away from practices that keep putting it into budget deficits.
"RCSD should make a systemic commitment to adhere to the budget constraints of the district and refrain from a culture of buying it now and trying to figure out how to pay for it later,” she told the board.
Jallow is scheduled to deliver her recommendations, along with any objections from the school board, to the state Education Commissioner on Dec. 1.
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