News & Opinion » News

City Council grills RCSD officials


At a meeting with Rochester City School District leaders Thursday night, City Councilmembers raised concerns about transparency and a lack of confidence and peppered district officials with questions about the district's finances.

Internal and external investigations are continuing into how the district went from a balanced budget that it presented to City Council in June to about $30 million in the red this fall. 

Some of the most pointed questions came from Councilmember Michael Patterson, who said there's a crisis of community confidence in the district and that it was shocking that the crisis involves the district’s finances. Patterson went on to grill District Superintendent Terry Dade on the contents of a PowerPoint document he presented on the district’s shortfall.

Council Vice President Willie Lightfoot expressed concern about the district's lack of specific dates for turning over documents to Council. “We’re talking about specifically the fiscal responsibility of your organization,” said Lightfoot “And these documents are critical to our understanding of how we’re going forward.”

Questioned on a timeline for his decision-making, Dade said repeatedly that he did not want to make cuts until he got advice from the Board of Education and union leaders. He also said he planned to announce his decisions a month from now.

Patterson expressed concern about the district’s approach to their problems.

“Your actions or your past inactions, whomever's fault they were, are now negatively impacting the whole City of Rochester more so than they ever have before,” said Patterson. “I’m happy to see the confidence that you display. It is wonderful. But it's also frightening on some level. Time is no one’s friend in this. And you have our babies. You can’t wait to make cuts. But time is not your friend, and I don’t feel a burning sense of urgency. I’m not looking for fear because fear doesn’t help, but there’s a calmness about this sense that we’ve been here before and we can do this again and ya’ll need need to settle down.”

In response, board President Van White said now is not the time to let emotions like anger, anxiety, and frustration lead the way.

“Please don’t misunderstand our intentions when we sit here very calmly and cooly and rationally and try to provide the best answers that we can," White said. "And if we can’t, our commitment is to give you those answers as soon as possible.”

After the meeting, school board member Beatriz LeBron said she has her own doubts about the city's leadership. “I have a lack of confidence in them as well,” said LeBron. “I understand their frustration. I’m a resident of the 19th Ward. I have lots of concerns in the southwest and the overall economy in the City of Rochester and the poverty level in Rochester," and the city’s efforts to address the trauma and the poverty children experience when they're not in school. "So I can say the same thing about them and their work in City Council," LeBron said.

At this point, LeBron said, "it feels like every elected official has to put away their self serving or political grandstanding. We have to kinda grow up and be professional. And whether we like each other personally or not, we have to maintain the focus on the health and on our entire city and our school district.”

James Brown is a reporter for WXXI News.