Mayor Lovely Warren stood with members of Rochester City Council Friday morning to announce a plan to ask city voters to allow the state to assume control over the Rochester City School District for five years.
If approved by City Council, a referendum will be held in November for voters to decide whether or not to move ahead with or reject the plan.
The announcement comes less than one day after the RCSD Board of Education submitted its improvement plan to the New York State Education Commissioner.
As 13WHAM previously reported, a proposal had been discussed between members of the State Education Commission and the City of Rochester, which called for the dissolution of the current Board of Education.
“Weeks ago I was contacted by the state education commissioner and the Board of Regents for my thoughts on the possibility of the state assuming operational control of the school district for five years,” Warren said Friday. “Given my grave concerns for our children and the fact that I know what we all know, that the system is broken and it needs to be changed. I supported that plan.”
During Friday’s news conference, Warren and City Council President Loretta Scott stressed their desire to hear directly from the voters on the matter.
“Our families should have a say in this decision,” said Scott. “And I’m confident that our residents voice their choice at the ballot box, that it will be an even louder call to action then all the experts and elected officials combined.”
“There is no reason that only a few miles down the road, graduation rates are in the 90s, kids are excelling at tests, meeting and exceeding benchmarks, and our youth are not,” she added.
The idea is facing stiff opposition from district leaders, who say positive changes are already taking effect in the district.
“When we got involved, things were even worse. This is not the ‘status quo,’ my friends,” said School Board President Van White. “We’re about, like they are, changing the ‘status quo,’ and we’re doing it.
Interim Superintendent Dan Lowengard agreed.
“We’re looking for a partnership with the mayor, and only through a partnership can we really accelerate the growth that we’ve had,” said Lowengard.
Former school board president and current City Councilman Malik Evans agrees sweeping changes are needed.
“It’s something that needs to be solved, because thousands of students depend on the ability to get a good education,” said Evans.
He says he’s unsure if giving Albany control of the district is the best option moving forward, but adds he supports giving voters a chance to have a say, no matter what happens with the vote.
“I think this and other things will be part of an overall menu of conversations you can have as you look at trying to reform one of the toughest organizations, I would say, in the country, and that is the Rochester City School District,” said Evans.
Evans wanted to remind voters that Albany lawmakers have the final say in whether the State Education Department would take over schools.
The State Education Department did not return requests for comment Friday.
The city’s attorney says if the plans all go through as currently written, it could impact the superintendent’s role in the district. Incoming superintendent Terry Dade did not return requests for comment Friday.
The announcement has sparked reaction from local lawmakers and community leaders.
“Public participation is the cornerstone of our democracy,” Assemblywoman Jamie Romeo (D-136th District) said in a statement. “However, it can only be effective with an informed electorate. While I appreciate the passion from our partners in government at City Hall, to date the SED Commissioner has not publicly proposed nor endorsed a plan related to the governance issues with the Rochester City School District. I think it would be inappropriate to put a question to the families of this community to which there is no answer or plan for.”
“I did not support the State of New York removing the local school board but I will support any local decision based on a vote of the people of Rochester,” said State Senator Rich Funke (R-55th District). “The School Board was elected by the voters in the city and their fate should be determined by those same voters. I commend Mayor Warren for trusting the voters to make the right decision and I will fully support any verdict that they render.”
State Senator Joe Robach (R-56th District) is for letting the people have a choice.
“In my entire career, anytime there’s been a homeroom message from a town, a county, a city, I don’t think I’ve ever opposed that, I think local government should speak and have autonomy,” said Robach.
“I am going to do everything I can for the children of Rochester, and do the right thing and respond in a comprehensive way to the distinguished educator instead of only focusing on which adult will run this school,” said State Assemblyman Harry Bronson, (D-138th District).
Bronson is currently working on his own plan that he said is in line with what the state appointed consultant’s report.
“We could immediately require the things that are in that legislation: The community schools, the children advisory center, the requirement that board members have additional training on their responsibilities, articulating the difference between what the superintendent is supposed to do and what the board members are supposed to do,” he said.
He hopes to finish the legislation next week and have it ready for a June 19 vote.
Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bob Duffy released a video statement Friday, supporting the mayor’s announcement.
— WHAM 13