By JAMES BROWN
A local child-focused, nonprofit organization is offering a critique of the Rochester City School District’s proposed budget.
The Children’s Agenda review was released Thursday. It lauds the district’s decrease in suspensions, but notes that cuts in the proposed budget may stop the progress.
“A lot of great progress has been made in the last five years,” said Eamonn Scanlon, the group’s education and policy analyst. “The district has reduced their suspensions by 40%, but a lot of that work was funded through grants, and a lot of those grants are running out.”
Scanlon said the district opted to cut grant-funded jobs, which include positions focused on restorative justice. He credited those with some of the recent decrease in suspensions. Those jobs included coaches that help students find solutions to disruptions in school. Scanlon said it would take about $2 million to preserve these positions.
District spokesperson Carlos Garcia said he has yet to see the report. He said, however, that this type of input should be addressed to the Board of Education, which is in the midst of taking public input and deliberating on the budget.
The review also offered recommendations to continue the improvement of the schools’ climate, including banning suspensions for anyone in second grade or lower, limiting long-term suspensions to 20 days and training all staff on the district’s code of conduct.
Scanlon is also critical of the district’s plan to condense 40 special education administrative roles into 16 jobs.
“They will not have the capacity to keep up with all the meetings in special education,” said Scanlon, who once consulted on the matter for the district. “This is different but similar to something that was tried a year ago and failed. And part of the reason it failed last time was not enough planning and also not adequate staffing for the transition.”
Scanlon said an additional 12 positions could handle the caseload if their responsibilities are streamlined.
The budget also calls for the special education administrators to work out of the same central office. Scanlon said the administrators are currently working in schools. He said it’s crucial that there’s enough staff with familiarity with the students to help parents solve problems during this transition period.
“I know a lot of parents are concerned that when these case managers go away, they won’t know who to turn to when they are having problems with their child’s services in their buildings,” said Scanlon. “So there needs to be enough folks that know the kids by face and name to work with parents when problems arise.”
The Rochester City School budget is not final yet. Deliberations with public input continued Thursday and will continue later this month. The final budget must be approved by the Board of Education in May and City Council in June.
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