The current budget gap in the Rochester City School District is about $30 million, Superintendent Terry Dade said Thursday, less than originally feared but still a fearsome hole to fill.
Sources in the district administration said Thursday the $50 million figure was an early calculation based on the external auditor’s initial analysis. After a week’s worth of calculations, the district believes the problem is closer to $30 million.
That is different from the district’s first suggestion that the overspending happened in special education. Dade said that, while special education costs had increased greatly, it was done according to a plan and did not appear to be responsible for the gap.
Dade pointed only to one specific change that’s already been made. All new hires, he said, must go through his office for an additional level of approval.
There are still a number of questions to which the district lacks answers. Chief among them is why, in mid-May, Chief Financial Officer Everton Sewell reported that the budget was on track to be balanced at the end of June.
In advance of Thursday night’s board meeting, the district posted year-end monthly cash flow numbers for 2018-19. Added together, they show a $58.6 million deficit between revenues and disbursements.
It was not clear whether all factors, including late-arriving revenues, were included in those numbers. The district disputed the calculation but did not elaborate on why.
“The city continues to eagerly await the facts here,” said city spokesman Justin Roj, asserting that Dade released no specifics Thursday and the district has made no effort to brief the mayor.
The state Comptroller will arrive Oct. 4 to conduct its own audit, Dade said. The next update will likely come at the school board audit committee meeting Oct. 8.
“There’s going to be lots of folks with their eyes on our current situation,” he said. “I do hope to be able to provide more details about some of those missteps at the Oct. 8 meeting.”
Dade repeated his hope, in solving the issue, to “do everything possible to make sure that we’re not impacting the classrooms in our schools.” But he acknowledged there is still much to be learned about the details of the crisis.
Part of the difficulty in analyzing last year’s budget is the disjointed way it is written and used.
“The lines move around so much it’s hard to find the problems,” said Eamonn Scanlon, an RCSD budget analyst at The Children’s Agenda. “That’s what Rick Timbs said and that’s what I’ve written about.”
RCSD must sort out the effect of last year’s errors on this year’s budget while also crafting a spending plan for next year, 2020-21. Dade says he does not yet know what the structural budget gap will be; an estimate last year put it at $56 million.
The school board met at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. In a press release Wednesday evening, board member Judith Davis called for President Van White and finance committee chairwoman Willa Powell to resign from the board.
Includes reporting by staff writer Brian Sharp.