Originally rumored to be a budget shortfall of $50 million, Rochester City School District Superintendent Terry Dade says now with an internal auditor and his own financial team, he is confident the district is facing a shortfall of $30 million; a number that parents Spectrum News spoke to don’t understand.
“It’s a shame we built all of these schools all over the place, and now we find out there’s missing money," grandparent Veronica White said.
Zahyia Rolle, a parent of three district students, agreed.
“Where did it go? Because I know there are leaky roofs in a lot of these schools. So where did it go?" Rolle said.
But Dade attributes that shortfall to overspending on employee benefits, teacher substitutes, charter tuition, retirement benefits and contract transportation.
“These are not small numbers we’re talking about, so it’s really going to take us working with our unions and stakeholders to make decisions that will get us out of this situation without impacting teaching and learning of our students,” Dade said.
Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski is worried how the district is going to make up this shortfall.
“When you lay off a teacher, you’re hurting the student. I mean, what kind of teachers are you going to lay off? Are you going to lay off the music, art and physical education our students need and deserve?" Urbanski said.
And so is Rolle.
“I hope that they look at the higher-ups and what’s going on in the bureaucracy of the school district first, that would be my concern,” Rolle said.
But while Dade says it’s too early to say where cuts will be made to make up that shortfall, he once again re-emphasized his commitment to protecting his students, faculty and staff.
“We’re facing very tough budget times. These are the things that will keep me up at night, thinking of significant cuts while we still provide the services our students need, and families and students deserve,” Dade said.
Rolle hopes that’s the case.
“I’m hoping they’ll be able to move forward and get the problem solved," Rolle said. "I’m still going to try and be optimistic, that’s the only thing I can do, because I live in the city and I’m not interested in moving.”
Justin Roy, communications director for the city, released a statement following the press conference:
"Superintendent Dade’s press conference failed to provide any specifics related to the deficit with no level of details. To say their process worked is a farce, and if they were to manage their budget correctly, the district should not be surprised as to a deficit. They should be checking their expenses on a monthly and regular basis as any competent organization should and project forward. Right now the city is waiting on the true specifics from the district annual financial report. More importantly we look forward to the comptroller’s report, which should provide the full detail and reasons for why this deficit has occurred."
The state comptroller’s office will join the district to address the financial crisis as the investigation continues. Dade says he will give another update on how things stand at an audit committee meeting on October 8.