The Rochester City School District is facing a reported multi-million dollar budget deficit.
The gap has Congressman Joe Morelle calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the district’s finances.
“Well, in my years at the state level and now at the federal level, I’ve never seen anything quite as shocking, this has the potential to be up to 5 percent of the total budget of the city school district,” said Representative Joe Morelle, (D-25 District).
Assemblyman Harry Bronson (D-138 District) and Senator Rich Funke (R-55 District) chimed in Monday also calling on Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to audit and investigate the situation.
“Protecting taxpayers and ensuring our children receive a quality education remains a top priority for me,” Bronson said in a statement. “An independent investigation will provide the answers that will allow the district to function for the benefit of our children and our community.”
"I am also preparing legislation for introduction. My bill would impose a state fiscal monitor on RCSD with final approval on any and all financial decisions," Funke said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the district said staff is working around the clock looking into the issue, that first came to light last week by an internal auditor.
“This is all done as part of the normal process. They contacted the board of education’s auditor general and the auditor general contacted me and the superintendent," school board president Van White said. "That’s why we issued the letter to a number of officials, which I’m sure the congressman was aware of the circumstances and what we said is what our internal told us was of significances and of concern.”
“The potential that they might have an end balance of up to $50 million when just a few months ago they were issuing reports that indicated they were balanced for the year is extraordinary," Morelle added.
The budget at the center of this crisis is for the 2018-2019 school year. RCSD Board of Education adopted the $915,945,579 budget on May 15, 2018.
Morelle said the shortfall shows the lack of accountability within the district and damages the educational environment for thousands of children.
“I’ve also asked that they look at it in the context of a civil rights violation," Morelle added. "Most of the children in the city school district, a pretty significant majority, are children of color and in order for them to have an equal education they have to have a school district that has budgeting practices."
The congressman said the potential budget crisis could have implications for the city of Rochester because it’s a dependent school district meaning money comes from the city.
“The fact that the congressperson is concerned about our financial situation only exists because we let them know," White said.
He believes it is too soon to point fingers and make assumptions about implications surrounding the budget.
“We don’t have all of the facts," Van continued. "We’ve been transparent and as soon as we get the facts, we will inform the congressman and the countless people— mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles throughout this community— that are entitled to know the facts."
School District Superintendent Terry Dade posted a video message on Twitter addressing the concerns.
“I’ve assembled a team of finance and audit personnel to review the circumstances that brought us to this point, as well as to identify the steps necessary to address this deficit. I will provide further details regarding these team findings in the coming week,” said Dade.
“So while there is no doubt that we will address these financial issues with both short-term actions and long-term plans, I can assure you that I have no plans for a reduction of staff this year.”
Morelle said he will continue talking to partners at the state and local level and expects to hear from the Department of Justice within the next few days.