Dozens rallied to protest proposed layoffs in the Rochester City School District, ahead of Thursday evening's school board meeting.
Members of the Rochester Teacher Association, Rochester Association of Paraprofessionals and their supporters are against the staffing cuts, which they say would increase class sizes, be disruptive to learning and eliminate services for city students.
"Why is the assumption that when there is a shortfall in the budget, why is the assumption that the support networks that we have, that's where we make the cuts? We already have great needs in the district at the level of support and faculty. How is it possible to conceive that that is the only place where we can recoup that money," said Protestor Lisa Cerami.
To help close a $30 million deficit, RCSD has proposed layoffs that include 152 teachers and 22 paraprofessionals. The two organizations are looking for community support in hopes of pressuring the school board before their next meeting on December 19.
"Our students need that extra support, the classrooms are getting bigger, the learning they are expecting us to achieve are harder, so they need that support, and we are that support. We are the backbone of the classrooms," said Doriy Jackson, vice president of RAP.
After the protest, many of the protestors went into the board meeting that followed.
The room quickly filled capacity, leaving people to stand. At one point, the district had to close entry to the meeting.
Nearly 40 speakers spoke, each given two minutes to do so. Teachers, parents, speech therapists and community activists all spoke, and nearly all the speakers asked the board to vote no on the proposed cuts.
Superintendent Terry Dade says he proposed 5 percent cuts across the board, but administration is seeing closer to 10 percent. He also says he can’t afford to wait until the end of the school year to make these cuts, though he says it’s one of the hardest decisions he’s had to make.
"I was impressed with our teachers coming out and speaking their truth behind the impacts of some of these cuts," Dade said. "That said, we still have an unfortunate challenge ahead of us. And it’s a deficit we have to take care of this school year.”
Meanwhile, Board President Van White says while he sympathizes with the personal anecdotes from the meeting, when he votes on the proposals, he will have to vote with the fiscal crisis in mind.
"These are very compelling stories, we have to consider them and we will. But we also have to consider our financial situation, and we have to be strong, wise financial stewards," White said.
The board will vote on the proposals December 19. But the district says potential layoff notices will begin being delivered by principals Friday.