The Rochester City Council’s Finance Committee called on members of the Rochester City School District to answer questions regarding the deficit crisis at a special meeting Thursday night.
RCSD Superintendent Terry Dade and Board of Education President Van White sat before the City Council to answer questions regarding the $30 million budget shortfall the district faces.
“It is additional fact finding, as a part of us trying to find out exactly what is going on and what needs to happen to fix it,” City Council President Loretta Scott said.
Scott says the council is concerned that the shortfall will ultimately impact taxpayers in the city.
“If our rating with the bonding agencies goes down, it will cost us more to borrow for capital projects and that will increase the tax levy on citizens,” Scott said.
The meeting started with White invoking the Nguni word for humanity, “ubuntu,” which relates to an African philosophy about community. As part of that, he challenged all levels of government to do their part in helping solve this crisis.
“I believe ubuntu may require that the city rethink, given the challenges we all face, why over two decades it has continued to give the Rochester City School District the same $119 million, having never been adjusted for the cost of inflation,” White said.
Trust in the district was a theme of the evening, and at times, the council seemed impatient with the lack of answers the district provided.
Vice President Willie Lightfoot criticized the district for not being more prepared with documents for the meeting, but Dade wanted to be clear that they brought everything that was asked.
“The council asked for two documents ahead of time for this meeting, and both of those documents were provided," Dade said. "There were additional documents that were referenced during the meeting that we just weren’t prepared to provide because we didn’t receive those requests ahead of time.”
He promised a quick turnaround for those requests.
And at the conclusion of the meeting, both the city and district seemed optimistic about working together to solve the crisis.
“There’s only one way I know how to lead, and that’s in a collaborative manner," Dade said. "And that’s what I’m going to be expecting in our relationship with City Council moving forward is that I need them, and they need me to do right by our students here in Rochester.”
On November 12, Dade says RCSD will announce a short-term plan to close the existing budget deficit and asks for feedback from the Board of Education and community.