Rochester Lays-Off 198 Teachers
The district is plugging an $84M budget deficit with draconian cuts that will unduly affect the most needy
Near-record unemployment, falling revenue for state and local governments, and a huge budget deficit are causing more layoffs for teachers in Rochester, New York. Even before the crisis, the district had made the unprecedented decision to have midyear layoffs. Now that the budget deficit has continued to balloon, more cuts are on the horizon.
The district is facing an $84 million budget deficit, which is $24 million more than previously estimated due to the COVID-19 crisis. To balance the budget, the district has decided to eliminate 198 teaching positions within the district. These include 49 Elementary; 28 Reading; 21 Speech and Language; 21 ESOL; 20 Special Education; 15 Social Work; 15 Physical Education; 12 Art; 5 Guidance Counseling; 5 Math. This comes after the district eliminated 108 positions in January. According to the Rochester Teachers Association (RTA), the cuts will target the most vulnerable schools and students in the district, with Special Education being one of the most hard hit.
The budget also closes down five schools and cuts some funding for programs like the Bilingual Academy, Young Mothers program, and East High’s partnership with the University of Rochester.
To make matters worse, the city’s school Superintendent Terry Dade announced at the end of April that he is looking to step down and negotiate a departure plan that would go into effect at the end of the school year. He was with the district for less than a year Dade has come under fire from both the teachers union and the school board for his insistence on cutting his way out of the budget deficit.
During a budget session earlier this month, Board President Van White said the latest proposed cuts did not reflect "sound educational practice." Turning to Dade, he continued: "You’re making decisions — I’m not saying you’re a bad superintendent — but you’re making decisions that are not in the best educational interests of our children." Critics have charged that proposal lays the burden on teachers and students while sparing Central Office.
It has since come out that Dade decided to leave Rochester after getting a job offer from a neighboring district.
The budget issues in Rochester are only expected to get worse as New York state has frozen education funding for the 2020-21 school year. Since costs, like collectively bargained raises and increasing costs of supplies continue to go up, a freeze in state aid is the equivalent of a small cut to the district's budget. New York’s budget, which passed at the beginning of April, also has a provision that allows the Governor to cut spending at any point during the year. This new provision was put into the budget since officials felt it would be difficult to project state revenues in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. However, a reduction in revenue could mean a mid-year cut to school aid if the economy doesn’t improve in the coming months and could lead to more mid-year layoffs for the beleaguered school district
While Dade hopes that most of the position cuts will be covered by retiring teachers, RTA disagrees saying only about half will be retiring. “We’re going to find ourselves hard-pressed to find good teacher candidates to choose the Rochester City School District,” said RTA President Adam Urbanski. “I don’t know how we will be dealing with the social and emotional trauma that the children will have when they return in September.”
For more on the troubles that Rochester is facing, check out UCOMM Live's interview with the American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.