Justin Murphy, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
The state monitor for the Rochester City School District is recommending a significant reduction in teachers in city schools and a more disciplined approach to labor relations, according to draft academic and fiscal plans released Tuesday.
Neither recommendation is new, but Monitor Shelley Jallow said both are critical to reforming the district’s academic and fiscal status. The school board will hold a hearing on her two reports at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Some of Jallow’s recommendations are mere suggestions; others are mandatory, unless the school board could convince the state Education Commissioner otherwise. Among them:
Many of Jallow’s findings borrow from Distinguished Educator Jaime Aquino’s report; as Jallow noted, the work he outlined remains largely undone.
Both Aquino and Jallow concluded the district must be more disciplined in its labor relations strategy. Jallow counted 200 agreements RCSD has signed with its unions outside their formal contracts, mostly without oversight from the board and executive cabinet.
Another familiar refrain is the need to “right-size” the work force. Jallow pointed to language in the Rochester Teachers Association contract allowing for student-teacher ratios of between 25 and 28 students per classroom, depending on the grade level, and said the current prevailing ratios are nearer to half of that.
“I’m not saying you have to go to the max, but you have to do a little bit better on these (ratios),” Jallow told the board last week. “I think it’s costing you financially but also it has an impact on academics as well.”
RTA President Adam Urbanski said that was “a very common mistake that most people make who aren’t familiar with how things work.” He rejected her estimate of between 9 and 14 students per class currently, saying she hadn’t taken into account specialized classes for students with disabilities.
“The bottom line is that if they were to reduce the number of teachers by half, that is unworkable and would be absolutely devastating,” he said.
The question is difficult to solve because, in a district where about 1 in 10 students experiences homelessness in a given year and around half are chronically absent, it is difficult to say on paper when a classroom is full.
“I don’t buy that since there are fewer students in the district, therefore there should be a proportionate reduction in the number of teachers,” School Board President Van White said. “The sort of problems we have in the district today are not the same as they had in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, and they require more social workers and counselors and teachers in the classroom.”
Eamonn Scanlon, education policy analyst at The Children’s Agenda, said he mostly agrees with Jallow’s recommendations but now wants to see them implemented.
“All the recommendations have been made in some capacity before, and the newer ones are all completely sound,” he said. “It’s good – it’s just a question of follow-through.
“The real challenges for the district are money and stability. Ultimately it’s going to be about the level of state funding and how long Lesli Myers-Small stays around.”
Jallow referred to the likelihood of flat or declining state funding in her finance report, giving multi-year projections with varying levels of state support. None of her charts looked very reassuring.