As we wind down this difficult school year, and await the report of the Fact Finder appointed by the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) to help resolve our stalled negotiations for a successor contract, here’s the third installment of our analysis and commentary on the Rochester City School District’s finances.

During formal hearings on May 7th and May 13th, the District testified to the PERB Fact Finder about the District’s budget. The meetings were scheduled to address the impasse in the stalled negotiations for a successor contract between the RTA and the RCSD. At both of these sessions, according to a New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) fiscal expert engaged by RTA, the District’s testimony and financial documents included troubling misrepresentation of the District’s funds, the District’s fund balance, state aid levels, and guidelines for permissible use of the additional State and Federal funds. Peter Applebee, who served as Deputy Director of the NYS Senate Finance Committee before becoming Manager of Education Finance at NYSUT, submitted a response to the Fact Finder on behalf of RTA. While his full response is attached below, here are some of his key conclusions:

– The data in the District’s charts for their fund balance is two years old and does not accurately represent their finances, their true fund balance, or the actual parameters for permissible use of these funds.- According to the District’s own Audited Financial Statements, the District’s fund balance was $82.2 million at the end of the 2019-20 school year and is projected to be $91.2 million at the end of the 2020-21 school year. In their adopted 2021-22 budget, the District claims that they want to use $33.1 million of that $91.2 million to balance next year’s budget. This may or may not be so. But even if they did, that would still leave more than $58 million in their fund balance.

– RCSD’s total NYS Formula Aid for the 2021-22 school year will increase by $83 million but the District still chooses to ignore this increase in revenue.

– The District falsely claims that the substantial increase in revenue from the Federal stimulus aid, more than $284 million over the next several years, cannot be used “toward staff compensation determinations” – despite clear guidance from the United States Department of Education to the contrary.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the RCSD’s State-appointed monitor, the superintendent, the chief financial officer, and some school board members, are so determined to “right-size the District” that they won’t allow facts to get in their way. At first, they tried to manufacture a false deficit crisis of $199 million. Since that didn’t work, they are now resorting to intentionally misrepresenting the huge influx of new funds from State and Federal sources.
“Right-sizing the District” is a euphemism for closing schools, laying off teachers, and cutting programs and services for students. At a time that our District is swimming in money, neither we nor this community should allow this to happen. Instead of squandering this unprecedented increase to fund the Central Office bureaucracy, the District should settle the stalled negotiations with all their employees, lower class sizes, and provide our students with the additional resources and services they need and deserve.

Adam Urbanski, RTA President