“I wish I had the luxury of past superintendents, when we had a fund balance to engage in these tough conversations,” Dade said March 26 as he presented his proposed 2020-21 budget to the Board of Education.
Those days are gone.
Dade said the district has nothing in the bank, having gone through reserves in previous years. He said a pattern of overspending and underbudgeting left the district to close a $125 million gap in one year’s time.
“I know that’s not popular for everyone to hear,” he said. “I just want to make sure everyone knows we don’t have the luxury of a savings account to dip into as we make these tough decisions. Every single add-on, we’re going to have to come back and say where we’re going to make our reduction in the proposed budget.”
Dade and the board met via the online platform Zoom, and more than 300 people watched on the district’s RCSDTV feed. They used the chat board to keep up a commentary on the proposal as Dade was speaking to the board.
The proposed budget totals $948,993,855. It calls for $14,796,196 more in revenue from the 2019-2020 amended budget. That increase is balanced by an equal dollar amount of spending reductions.
The proposal calls for eliminating 236 staff positions. (The district eliminated 151 positions during the current school year.) The budget is posted at https://www.rcsdk12.org/Page/53362
“This is legit,” Dade said. “There is scrutiny on this administration and this board to make sure we are not underbudgeting. That’s why I’m pleading with everyone to understand this is as serious as it gets.”
Funding for the budget comes from New York state (77.1%), the city (12.9%), the federal government (8.1%) and other sources.
Dade made the proposed budget without knowing the dollar amount from the state, and before the state’s bills for COVID-19 come due.
He said he was conservative in the amount of money he expected for the 2020-21 school year.
The district still is waiting to learn if it will receive $35 million from the state to close the deficit for the current academic year.
The superintendent makes recommendations to the board for the budget, but ultimately the board owns the plan. Even with the warning that adding to one part of the budget will mean subtracting from another, Dade encouraged the community to voice their concerns. The board is scheduling a public webinar for April 14. Contact information for board members is at https://www.rcsdk12.org/boe.
According to Dade’s presentation to the board, budget decisions were based on:
- Having to close a gap of $61 million for the 2020-21 school year, mindful of the existing $35 million gap from the current year. Also, the district had to close about a $28 million gap from the 2018-19 academic year.
- Priorities of the school board. Those were a reduction in the central office; supporting restorative practices and special education; making contract reductions and reviewing health care costs.
- Adjusting staff because of declining student enrollment.
Making changes to some school programs.
Here are some items from the proposed budget:
- Reorganizing central office to save $2.9 million. The plan calls for eliminating four positions.
- Closing Bilingual Language and Literacy Academy and Young Mothers & Interim Health Academy, saving a total of $4.9 million.
Transitioning Rochester International Academy to grades 6 through 12, saving $1.7 million.
- Move location for New Beginnings and LyncX to create efficiencies in staffing and to eliminate a lease, saving $820,000.
- Working with Monroe County to support additional social workers and centrally allocate 11 full time equivalents.
No unilateral changes can be made to health care benefits, but future contract negotiations will include a review of co-pays and premiums.