Continuing her push for a temporary state takeover of the Rochester school district, Mayor Lovely Warren sent city residents a letter last week urging them to vote on the issue in November.
In June, at Warren's request, City Council approved a November 5 referendum calling for a state takeover. But the takeover issue is highly controversial; critics include not only the school board and the teachers union but many local education activists.
Warren's letter did not urge recipients to vote for or against the referendum. But the letter repeats concerns Warren has raised about the district, opening with "For far too long, our kids have been failed by a broken educational system in Rochester."
"Many City parents have no choice but to send their kids to a school system they know has failed almost half of its children," Warren's letter says. "The referendum allows City parents and residents to be heard and decide the future of our schools."
The letter, bearing a City of Rochester logo, went to 30,000 city residents at a cost to taxpayers of about $10,000, Warren administration officials said, primarily for postage.
Was this an appropriate use of public money?
The New York State constitution bans the use of public funds to sway public opinion. "Although a municipality may use public funds to educate and inform the public, it may not use funds to convey favoritism, partisanship, partiality, approval, or disapproval of local legislation," the law says.
"There's a difference between advocacy and education, and we would argue that this is the latter," Warren's spokesperson, Justin Roj, said.
Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Association, said he doesn't know about the legality of Warren's letter. But RTA will be joining a coalition of community groups, parents, and residents who oppose the takeover and elimination of an elected body, he said.
"We're determined to provide an alternative plan that doesn't require the disenfranchisement of Rochester's citizens," Urbanski said.