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Sharp budget cuts in RCSD's future 

Rochester's Interim Superintendent, Daniel Lowengard, presented his proposed budget for next year to the school board yesterday: $925 million,  a slight increase over this year's $922 million. But balancing the
click to enlarge Rochester school district's central office - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • Rochester school district's central office
 budget required $40 million in cuts, including eliminating 326 full-time jobs, Lowengard said.

The cuts were made in every department in the district: 194 teachers, 50 administrators, and more than 50 paraprofessionals and teaching assistants. Lowengard said he hoped many of the cuts will come in the form of attrition, and some jobs that are currently vacant won't be filled. But he didn't rule out layoffs.

Although there are multiple reasons for the need to make the cuts, Lowengard told board members that the district has been spending more money than it receives since 2013, and a correction is necessary or at some point the district won't be able to pay its debt service. While the board may have believed that its spending for programs and  initiatives was important, he said, in the future, the district's expenditures have to be below its revenue, he said.

Another major reason for the need to cut: The district's enrollment has been declining since 2013, Lowengard said. The number of students enrolling in charter schools reached 6,100 this year, for instance.  The enrollment decline has left some schools with small class sizes and excess space, while the cost of maintaining the buildings continues to increase. An increase in salaries and benefits, some of it stemming from the district's extended learning program, was also a concern.

The budget cuts will impact some of the programs and initiatives that many board members as well as outside stakeholders strongly support, such as counselors, social workers,  and attendance staff. The end of a $4 million grant will impact the community schools initiative underway at Schools 3, 9, 17, 45, Monroe, and Northeast High.  And extended learning in those schools will be reduced by one hour a day. 

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia could see Lowengard's proposed budget as a positive step toward reform, but the cuts could also make it harder for the school board and administration to implement their improvement plan. Elia has already expressed concern about the district's capacity to implement the plan, and it could make it more challenging to find a permanent superintendent willing to assume responsibility for a district with so many problems.

The district will hold public hearings and deliberations through April and will adopt the final version on May 7. City Council will meet to vote on the budget in June. 
 

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