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Warren: put state RCSD takeover on the ballot 

Mayor Lovely Warren has stepped up her push for a state takeover of the Rochester City School District. She wants city residents to vote on the issue.

At a press conference at City Hall this morning, Warren said she’s asking City Council to put the issue on the ballot in the November election. She wants the state to remove the Rochester school board and operate the district for at least five years, “to allow parents, teachers, and students to create a more effective governance model for the RCSD.”

City Council will be asked to vote at its July meeting on her request for a referendum.  Warren has strong support among the majority of City Council members, so it’s likely that Council will agree to her request.

The outcome of a referendum wouldn’t be binding, though; only the state legislature can remove the school board. The teachers’ union, the school board, and local education activists are adamantly opposed to a takeover, as is State Assembly member Harry Bronson. But the vote would test public reaction. And if voters agree with Warren, it could be a counter to the opponents’ argument that removing an elected school board would violate voters’ rights and dilute city residents' voice in district governance.
click to enlarge Mayor Lovely Warren announced Friday morning that she's seeking a city referendum on a state takeover of the Rochester City School District. Standing with her were Northeast District City Council member Michael Patterson, Council President Loretta Scott, and Council Vice President Willie Lightfoot. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • Mayor Lovely Warren announced Friday morning that she's seeking a city referendum on a state takeover of the Rochester City School District. Standing with her were Northeast District City Council member Michael Patterson, Council President Loretta Scott, and Council Vice President Willie Lightfoot.
Warren is also asking City Council to approve three changes to the City Charter. Two are wording changes: removing the reference to "Commissioners of Schools" and removing the reference to the length of school board members' terms. But the third Charter change would take effect if the referendum passes. It eliminates the salaries of school board members. Some city officials have been upset that Rochester school board members are paid substantially more than board members of other New York school districts. The charter changes would take effect only if the state legislature removed the school board.

In a video statement released shortly after Warren's press conference, Rochester Chamber of Commerce President Bob Duffy thanked Warren for her effort and said, "The Chamber of Commerce stands firmly behind you."

The press conference today is the latest in a series of efforts by Warren to bring about change in the district. On the heels of critical reports about the district's operations, Warren and some others had been urging the state to change the governance of the Rochester school district. State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and local Regents Wade Norwood and T. Andrew Brown had publicly chastised the school board and district officials.

Brown recently outlined a possible governance change that would have included removal of the school board, with the state operating the district for up to five years. But the state teachers union and others immediately pushed back on that that proposal, and sources say Elia and the Regents backed off, convinced that the state legislature would not approve it.

They were said to be seeking a softer plan for the district, but so far, none has surfaced. And earlier this week, the school board sent Elia a revised reform plan, pledging to correct its problems. Elia has yet not publicly responded to that plan.

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