Updated: April 07, 2020 11:36 PM
Created: April 07, 2020 11:30 PM
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Rochester School Board members sought creative ideas Tuesday night as the district worked to trim an additional $20 million from the district’s already lean budget proposal for the 2020-2021 school year.
Board members met in a Zoom conference to discuss amendments to a spending plan that includes layoffs and reductions.
"I suddenly feel as if all my hard work, passion and care for my students and families for nothing,” art teacher Libby Trausch said in a written comment read to the board. “I feel as if the RCSD has failed me as a teacher and professional and is continuing to fail students."
After cutbacks at the beginning of the year that involved laying off more than 200 employees, mostly teachers, and an 11th hour $35 million supplemental aid package from the state, all to balance the district’s 2019-2020 school year budget, Dade delivered a lean new proposed budget for the 2020-2021 school year in March.
But that budget included the expectation of an increase in money from Albany. After weeks of New York battling a pandemic, the economic ravages of the coronavirus have exploded the state’s projected budget deficit by billions and on Tuesday Dade revealed there would be no increase in aid and state school funding for Rochester would actually be shrinking slightly.
After cutbacks of more than $61 million to create a balanced budget for the upcoming year, Dade told board members it would be necessary to find another $20 million in savings.
In anticipation of the grim new numbers, School Board President Van White invited brainstorming for creative ideas to close the gap.
Board members proposed slicing millions on transportation costs, eliminating or “defunding” the district’s School Resource Officers, deep cuts to district support for the successful program at East High School and talks with the district’s unions about putting off employees’ raises.
"If I have to choose between giving staff raises or choosing to cut programs, unfortunately, I'm going to have to choose to not give a raise for a year in order to save programming for students,” Board Member Natalie Sheppard said.
With schools closed because of coronavirus concerns, board members also proposed furloughing teachers or support staff idled by the closures and not currently involved with meal distribution for students or the district’s work to shift to remote and online learning.
“Nothing should be left off the table,” White said. “So, I know, some people think ‘Furloughs! Why would you do that? These are hard-working employees. They don’t make enough already.’ All that is conceded but we are living in unusual times.”
“We need to be looking at asking every member of our community, every student, every parent, to except some degree of sacrifice to get us through this period,” Board Member Willa Powell added, urging a critical look at enrichment programs with an eye toward spreading the pain around beyond social workers and special education programs.
Dade was expected to give his responses to board members’ ideas, and offer any proposals of his own, when the board reconvenes on April 14.
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