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State officials draft RCSD takeover plan; future in doubt


[ UPDATED ]State education officials have drafted a plan to replace the Rochester school board with a state-appointed board for at least five years, according to documents CITY has obtained. At the end of the five years, the district’s governance would return to an elected board.
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.

The plan is a result of ongoing concerns about the state of the Rochester City School District, primarily its governance.  For it to become a reality, though, the plan would require action by the state legislature: only the legislature can remove elected school boards in New York State.

And while some in the Rochester community have been calling for a change in the district's governance, opposition seems likely from some local school activists, the school board, and the New York State teachers union.

State Assembly member Harry Bronson, who represents part of Rochester, said this afternoon that he would object to any plan that removed the elected school board.

A "framework" for the plan was outlined in an May 16 email from state Regent T. Andrew Brown to Regent Wade Norwood; Warren Administration Chief of Staff Alex Yudelson; State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia; Sean Hart, communications director for Representative Joe Morelle; Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski; and Regent Betty Rosa.

The email apparently followed discussions among the officials about the district's future. "SED and the Regents continue to be very concerned with the state of affairs in the RCSD," Brown wrote, "and have been busy refining the position statement that ended our last conversation. Since our meeting, our concerns have only grown."

"We believe this action is necessary to bring about real change, and put the interest of kids first," Brown's email says. (Brown had not responded to a request for comments for this article early this afternoon.)

Under the plan, the superintendent would report to Elia until a new board made up of people appointed by the regents could be created.

A later email from Yudelson to Brown says: "Mayor Warren is good with this approach and ready to be supportive however she can."

The following statement is from Emily DeSantis, SED spokesperson.

"As we have said over the past several months, we are extremely concerned with the dire situation at the Rochester City School District. We are having conversations with state and local elected officials, union officials and community leaders to determine the best path forward to improve teaching and learning for all students. No decisions have been made and all options continue to be on the table. One thing is clear, the status quo cannot continue. To do so would be a disservice to Rochester’s children."

But already the plan has opposition beginning to surface. State Assembly member Harry Bronson said  he is considering drafting legislation that would better define the roles of the board and the superintendent to address one aspect of the governance issue.

"The superintendent would be able to — especially the superintendent — be able to put a mission in place, move that forward without having interference from board members, and get those roles better defined," Bronson said.