News & Opinion » News

RCSD faces $30 million budget gap

District officials say they're still determining why last year's budget was overspent


Rochester schools Superintendent Terry Dade says the district overspent its budget last year by about $30 million. But he and other district officials also say they don't yet know how that happened and why they weren't aware of the problem earlier.
The district's external auditor discovered the overspending in its year end review of the district's finances.  District officials learned of the problem from the auditor and have spent the past several days intensely analyzing the budget to determine the source or sources of the shortfall.

Rochester schools Superintendent Terry Dade says the district overspent last year's budget by around $30 million. - PHOTO BY JAMES BROWN, WXXI NEWS
  • Rochester schools Superintendent Terry Dade says the district overspent last year's budget by around $30 million.
Some media had reported that the district had overspent by $50 million. But in a press conference this afternoon, Dade said he is "as confident as I can be" that the excess isn't more than $30 million. The district appears to have overspent primarily on employee benefits, substitute teachers, charter school expenses, retirement benefits, and contract transportation, he said.

Earlier reports on the problem suggested that one of the problem areas was special education costs. Based on the preliminary analysis, Dade said, "we're not seeing overspending in special education."

It's too early to tell who is at fault, Dade said. But, he said, so far, the district's investigation has revealed "no criminal malfeasance whatsoever."

Auditors from the state comptroller's office will come to Rochester and begin their own review on October 4, and Dade cautioned that it may not be a quick process. "No one will be able to give us a timeline," he said.

Dade, who joined the district in July, spoke alone at the press conference. No members of the school board or Dade's budget office were there. The district's chief financial officer, Everton Sewell, has been out of town because of a family member's death and continues to be on leave, Dade said.

Because the overspending involves personnel and recurring expenses, it will impact the current year's budget. The district will have to make "some very hard decisions," Dade said, and cuts will have to be made. But he repeated what he had said previously, that he is committed to making sure the cuts "are not impacting classrooms and students."

He will be working with the district's employee unions and other stakeholders to find reductions in the current budget, he said. He said that he has not instituted a hiring freeze, but that he will review all requests for new hires before they are given to the school board for its approval.

In a discussion with reporters following Dade's press conference, teachers union president Adam Urbanski said he is "very worried for our students." How can the district close a budget gap of $30 million without making cuts in staff, he said. When you lay off teachers," Urbanski said, "you're hurting students."

The district must not only figure out how to solve its current predicament, he said, but also make sure it doesn't happen again.