Advocates urge families to weigh in on school district budget

ROCHESTER — A local nonprofit advocacy organization wants Rochester City School District families to have a greater voice in the district’s upcoming budget review process because the spending plan is not put up for a public vote. 

Since the major cities in New York state receive funding from their local governments, residents in those cities do not get a vote on the school budget as suburban districts do, Eamonn Scanlon, a policy analyst with The Children’s Agenda, explained during a Feb. 12 press conference at Aenon Missionary Baptist Church. 

The Children’s Agenda also released a policy brief on the school budget Feb. 12. It provides an introduction into the factors that affect the budget’s greatest expenditures, Scanlon said. 

Compared to other school districts in Monroe County, Rochester has the highest expenses for poverty-related programs, transportation and academic services for students with special needs or who are English language learners (ELL), he added. Students classified as special education account for 20 percent of the student population. 

Schools across New York state spend 149 percent more on students with special needs than on general-education students, he noted. 

“Given all these challenges, we created this report at The Children’s Agenda because we wanted to get these facts out here,” he said. “We wanted to bring it all together in order to create that narrative: How are we going to make sure student outcomes improve? How are we going to make sure that (all) students have the resources and programs they need to succeed?” 

The organization will next conduct a “deep dive” analysis of the special-education programs in the 2018-19 spending proposal to be released in March, said Brigit Hurley, policy and advocacy director for The Children’s Agenda. 

“These are the most vulnerable students in our schools,” Scanlon said. “So making sure our money is effective and going to the right places is a huge need and something we as a community need to understand and get behind.” 

Lydia Rodríguez, who is an advocate for city students and whose children graduated from RCSD, said the needs of ELLs have increased with the influx of students who have been arriving from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. 

The program created to serve those students, a Bilingual Academy in the district’s space at 30 Hart St., is insufficient because it is too small in scope, she said. 

The district “needs bilingual teachers, bilingual social workers and cultural studies so these students can keep their culture,” she said. 

Additionally, many of the students have suffered trauma, and some of the families may still be staying with friends or families or have no place to stay, Rodríguez said. Becoming better informed about the budget and offering the school board input is the only way to make sure resources are allocated where they need to go, she said. 

“These families need help,” Rodríguez said. “They need all kinds of resources. … We need to do better.” 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams will present her budget to the Rochester school board on March 27. For more information, visit

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