Several years ago, a narrative took root about the Rochester school district: low graduation rates and inept management are largely due to adults who are putting their interests above what's good for students; jobs for adults are more important than the needs of students became a well-worn refrain.
The position, a not-so-thinly-veiled reference to the Rochester Teachers Union and school board members, was used to try to sell mayoral control and the expansion of charter schools.
This week, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren and City Council President Loretta Scott used the full weight of their political positions to threaten funding for the second phase of the $1.2 billion schools modernization project. Citing alleged criminal wrongdoing and mishandling of the $325 million for the first phase of the project, they lobbied lawmakers for 11th-hour changes to the legislation that they say will improve oversight and protect taxpayers.
Warren and Scott got their way, though we still don’t know if lawmakers in Albany will approve the funding for the second phase of the project. The vote should happen on Thursday.
That’s not to say that Warren’s and Scott’s concerns are't legitimate or that they aren't concerned about the welfare of city students. But let’s be clear, a large component of this dispute was about protecting construction jobs for adults in this community. Some people have described the entire project as the biggest jobs bill to ever hit the city. And there’s some truth to that.
Warren and Scott should be concerned about bringing more jobs to the city; that’s partly what they were elected to do. The Rochester school district employs thousands of adults annually. And money that passes through the district employs thousands more. No, they aren’t all for people who live in the city, but many are.
Let’s stop pretending that education isn’t big business, especially in the Rochester economy.