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It’s time to let the state try to fix the RCSD 

OK, if not this, what?

Last week, a plan to have the state take over the Rochester school district surfaced. Under the plan, crafted by state education officials after several meetings with some local leaders, the state legislature would dissolve the district’s elected school board. The state's Board of Regents would appoint a new board, which would serve for five years. After that, governance would return to an elected board.

When CITY and the Democrat and Chronicle reported the plan, the pushback was immediate. The school board doesn’t like it. School board candidates don’t like it. The teachers union doesn’t like it. Local education activists don’t like it. Rochester state Assembly member Harry Bronson doesn't like it.

And so it’s dead on arrival. Still, we ought to have a public discussion about this. Because, frankly: If not this plan, what?

The district has made progress in some areas. Graduation rates, for instance, have gone up significantly. But the district has a lot of problems. They're serious. They've persisted for years. And a democratically elected school board has been in charge, every step of the way.

Board members have caused some of the problems themselves, fighting with one another and interfering with district operations.

Other problems are management problems. Training, follow-through, institutional leadership problems. The school board is supposed to make sure the superintendent manages the district properly. This board and several of its predecessors haven't been able to do that.

Among the more publicized management problems: The district’s attendance-taking process broke down so badly that teachers marked a child present one day last year when instead, he had gotten off the school bus, walked downtown, and drowned in the Genesee River. Problems in the district’s special education program got so bad that the district's under a consent decree and has been given three years to fix them.

The last three superintendents, chosen and supervised by the school board, left after serving Rochester three years or less, all having strained relationships with at least some board members. And leadership turnover has been high not only at the top but also in other key administrative positions.

Can this system work? I don't know. It sure doesn't now.

The state officials' proposal isn't a permanent solution. It's a temporary takeover to let an appointed board try to get the management problems fixed. Presumably, that will result in improved education, but nobody should think this is all we have to do. As CITY education writer Tim Louis Macaluso noted in a recent article, we need to analyze the entire Rochester school system. Maybe it's simply too big to manage well. Maybe we should consider another form of governance. And, as Macaluso wrote, maybe it's not just the district's governance that needs to change. Maybe the community needs to change.

More about that another week. Meantime, Rochester seems to have squashed a perfectly reasonable proposal: one that could short-circuit the district's cycle of dysfunction, inject some stability, and give the community several years to talk about options.

Instead, it looks like we'll keep doing the same thing and just try to do it better. I can hear the calls now: Elect a different school board. Give Rochester's new superintendent a chance.

We've tried that before. Tell me why this time will be different.

Seriously. Send me your argument, maximum 580 words, with your name, phone number, and city, town, or village. The address:

Tell me why this time, with this system, will be different.

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