New school district budget closes funding gap

ROCHESTER — The Rochester City School District has unanimously adopted an $883.3 million budget for the 2017-18 school year.

The school board voted 7-0 in to adopt the spending plan during a special meeting on May 11.

Superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams’ initial $920 million proposal included a $54 million funding gap that was reduced to $17.9 million through operational efficiencies and cuts in school health services.

The remaining gap was closed through several avenues, district officials said. The district received a $6 million increase in state aid funding as well as saved $3.7 million in administrative salaries by redirecting staff from central office to the classrooms, according to information from Everton Sewell, the district’s chief financial officer. District staff also incorporated such "novel ideas" as leasing buses instead of buying them, José Cruz, chairman of the school board’s finance committee, said during the May 11 meeting. Leasing 43 buses instead of purchasing 10 new buses saves the district nearly $500,000, Sewell said.

Also noteworthy, Cruz said, is the $110 million in grants that the district received from state and federal organizations for expanded learning time, enrichment programs and support services. The funds represent 8 percent of the district’s total revenues, he said.

"That’s phenomenal considering how hard it is to go out and get those grants," he remarked.

Deane-Williams said the district’s finance and programming staffs worked diligently this year to review the previous budget line by line as they put together this year’s budget and made changes for the final version.

"In the future, we are going to have to become more entrepreneurial … in our (budget planning) approaches," she added. "We are beginning to seek out some grant funds that allow us to build out our programs in the future so we can become more sustaining in the areas of professional learning for our leaders and our teachers."

She said ongoing professional development is necessary to position the district to be more responsive in meeting the needs of its students. The budget also includes the hiring of additional tutors and social workers to also better serve current students, she noted.

"I do believe we have delivered a budget that not only focuses on remediation but acceleration and support for all students, including those students that face greater challenges to graduate from high school," Deane-Williams said.

Increased expenditures in the budget also include the hiring of more than 100 certified math and reading teachers; an expansion of instruction for English language learners; and additional summer learning, early education, and Advanced Placement and pre-college programs.

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