- PHOTO BY GINO FANELLI
- Rochester city schools Superintendent Terry Dade is asking the state for $35 million to plug a gap in the district's budget for this year.
But even if the district gets the $35 million, it won’t be the end of its money troubles. During a news conference Friday afternoon, Dade said he expects the 2020-21 budget to have a $55 to $60 million gap.
“This is due to a lot of structural issues we have to face here at RCSD,” Dade said during a news conference Friday afternoon. “An over-expenditure of expenses and not getting the revenue we need is compounded by a lot of the decisions over the years.”
The RCSD had 32,132 students enrolled during the 2008-09 school, a figure that had fallen to 26,057 by 2018-19.
While schools across the nation are grappling with dropping enrollment rates, Rochester’s losses are steeper than at least some of their peers. Buffalo City Schools, for example, had 31,203 students in the 2018-19 year. A decade prior, they had 32,732.
The state assistance the district is seeking is not a permanent solution, and the District’s issues run deeper than a one time budget gap, Dade acknowledges. But not receiving the $35 million in state aid spin-up, which the district would have to repay, would place RCSD in a dire situation.
A report from the state Comptroller’s Office, which was released in late January, cautioned that without severe cuts, borrowing, or outside intervention, the district wouldn’t be able to pay its bills by the end of June.
The cuts would have to be pretty severe to bridge the impending gap. Dade estimated that mid-year teacher and staff layoffs, which took effect at the start of this year, will save the district about $20 million through 2021.
“If we don’t get that $35 million, we’re talking about not making payroll,” Dade said. “We’re talking about nobody getting paid in the Rochester City School District.”
With the problem snowballing year over year, Dade said now is the time to make structural changes and adapt how the district operates.
The district recently rolled out one such plan, which would consolidate 500 pre-k slots at schools 57 and 44. Those slots are currently designated for local nonprofits.
That could save the District over $4 million on an annual basis, Dade said.
Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed placing a fiscal monitor in place at RCSD. Dade said he’d gladly accept that offer if it meant securing funding to plug the district’s budget gap. Dade, likewise, vowed to never allow another mid-year staff cut.
“At the end of the day, whatever Governor Cuomo wants to put in place to get us the $35 million we need, I am not going to argue against,” Dade said.
Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.