The Children’s Agenda annually reviews the Rochester City School District’s budget in an effort to give parents and the public a more transparent and analytical look at how the administration is planning to spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year.
In its report on the proposed $924.5 million budget for the 2019-2020 school year, the non-profit children’s advocacy group acknowledged that the district has made discernible progress at reducing suspensions, improving graduation rates, improving some of its lowest performing schools, and focusing on special education and English language learners.
The review also points out that advancements have been made despite a long list of widely-reported problems, such as another change in senior leadership, a harsh report about the district’s failings from Distinguished Educator Jaime Aquino, and an equally tough report on the investigation into the death of student Trevyan Rowe.
But the Children’s Agenda’s analysis does express concerns about the district’s financial position. To balance this year’s budget, district officials have proposed cutting more than 326 positions, many of them teachers.
The need to drastically reduce staffing to balance the coming school year’s budget could impact the progress already made, as well as impede future progress. Though there are no current plans for teacher layoffs, since many teachers are opting for early retirement, the Children’s Agenda expresses a concern that special education, bilingual, reading, and intervention services would be hit hard by teacher vacancies.
Another major concern the Children’s Agenda focused on was centralizing special education evaluations for students in need of services. The 40 coordinators of special ed services referred to as CASEs would be replaced by a team of administrators and teachers in the district’s central office. The team of 16 is too small, according to the Children’s Agenda’s analysis, and should be increased to 28 to smoothly manage the district’s caseload.
But special education in general still isn’t receiving the funding needed to make substantial improvements, according to the Children’s Agenda analysis. And there is still no long-term plan for improvements to the English language learner and bilingual education programs.
The organization’s other concerns include a shortage of experienced Pre-K professionals for handling evaluations like speech pathology, as well as a shortage of teachers for deaf and blind students.