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City files appeal on RCSD referendum

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Mayor Lovely Warren - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • Mayor Lovely Warren
As Mayor Lovely Warren promised, the city filed an appeal today in the New York State Supreme Court's Appellate Division, asking the court to reverse a lower court's decision barring a referendum on a state takeover of the Rochester City School District.

In June, City Council approved Mayor Lovely Warren's request for a referendum on a temporary takeover of the district, which would remove the elected Rochester school board. The school district sued the city, and on August 2,  State Supreme Court Justice Scott Odorisi sided with the school district, saying that the referendum is "advisory" because only the state legislature can remove the school board, and an advisory referendum is prohibited by state law.

Odorisi ruled that a letter from Warren to 30,000 constituents was "improper" because it implied an endorsement of the takeover.  The Warren administration also wanted to remove school board members' salaries regardless of the outcome of the referendum, and Odorisi ruled against that as well.

In its 33-page appeal, the city cites school district problems that were detailed in a report by Distinguished Educator Jaime Aquino, including that the district has had five superintendent in the last 10 years, school board members haven't been clear about their role, and board members have tried to manage the day-to-day operations of the district.

Odorisi said that the school district is a separate institution from city government, and he cited a previous court decision saying that public education is "beyond control by municipalities." In its appeal, the city argues that:
  • School board members "in essence" have two "largely overlapping offices," one created by state education law and another created by the City Charter;
  • The charter provisions under dispute were enacted by the state legislature and thus are not preempted by state law;
  • Rather than being an "advisory" referendum, state law requires the referendum because it abolishes or changes the terms of an elected official;
  • The mayor's letter to 30,000 constituents was educational, not advocacy.

    School district officials released a statement this afternoon saying that they were "evaluating the city's arguments" and that they "are confident in the merits" of their case.

See related PDF Brief_-_FINAL.pdf