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Majority supports city control of Rochester’s public schools

The majority of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll support Mayor Robert Duffy’s plan to seek city government control of the Rochester City School District.

The graduation rate has improved to 50 percent from 39 percent, but Duffy says, "we cannot accept graduation rates of less than 90 percent."

Currently, a state mandate requires the city to contribute $119 million annually to the school district. The city has no authority or oversight for school expenditures.

Of the two-thirds of respondents who say they currently do not pay Rochester property taxes, 79 percent favor city government control of the school district, while 21 percent are opposed.

Of the one-third who say they pay city property taxes, 85 percent favor Duffy’s plan to take control and 15 percent oppose the plan, for which few details have been released. Duffy has said, however, that if approved by the state Legislature, the plan would be for a four-year trial period.

Roughly 840 readers participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted Jan. 4 and 5.

Do you favor city government control of the Rochester Central School District?

Of those who currently DO NOT pay Rochester property taxes:
No: 21 percent
Yes: 79 percent

Of those who currently pay Rochester property taxes:

No: 15 percent
Yes: 85 percent

Do you currently pay city of Rochester property taxes (as a city residential and/or commercial property owner)?
 No: 67 percent
Yes: 33 percent

Here are some comments from readers:

Everything else has failed to prepare the majority of city school students for the real world. It’s high time we try something else. We are paying for a Rolls Royce and getting Yugo performance. If the mayor accomplishes nothing but reducing the cost of $20,000 per student per year, even by 10 percent, it would be a resounding success for taxpayers.
—Frank Orienter, overburdened city taxpayer

I am not certain that mayoral control is the right answer to the complex issues that the Rochester school district confronts on a daily basis, but given the failures of the last two decades, something radically different must be done or we will lose another generation of kids.
—John F. Hurley, Web Seal Inc.

We simply aren’t getting the kind of leadership from our elected school board that can help Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard move student and teacher performance to a higher level. That creates an opening for Mayor Duffy. I believe he and City Council can do better, and they should have the opportunity to try.
—Pam Klainer, founder, Klainer Consulting Group LLC

I believe the city should have more direct impact on the financial management. Education management should stay primarily with education-focused organizations. I support consolidation across multiple school districts in the Monroe County area. We need to reduce the social-economic-cultural barriers that currently exist between city residents and surrounding town/suburban residents, lower costs and foster best practices across the various schools.
—Mike Bleeg, Strategic Results

For $119 million annually, it’s obvious the city should have at least some economic input to RCSD. What the mayor can or will do to improve educational performance isn’t nearly so obvious.
—David Lamb

It seems to me that if the city has to provide such a substantial amount of money, then it should not only be entitled to some oversight of how the tax monies are allocated and spent but should also demand it. The mayor seems to be doing only what is right from a fiduciary standpoint, and I applaud him for that.
—Tom Meilutis

I would be in favor of the current administration running the school district, but I am unclear on where this ultimately might end up with a future mayor. In principle, I am against it, as I believe in more separation of government entities rather than compressing and upsetting the balance of power.
—D. Eaton, Reagan Cos., Fairport

Other than Mayor Duffy’s interest in control and his implied intent to reduce the $119 million funding of education-which has remained at that level since the 1990s-we know nothing of how he intends to improve graduation rates or any other education-related outcomes. Let’s hear some details. The operative word so far has been "control." The community needs to have some clear indications of what changes Mayor Duffy has in mind.
—Tom Gillett, NYSUT

The Rochester City School Board has had a number of image problems in the past few years. I almost think of them as children fighting over their turf. The Rochester City Council should be able to do a better job of overseeing the school district’s finances.
—Al Schnucker, Schnucker Packaging, Inc.

It seems premature to consider a change in governance for RCSD before a thorough and objective study has been conducted to determine both the goals to be achieved and the means to achieve them.
—R. Frye, RGRTA

Rochester kids continue to fail, and there appears to be no strong board leadership to reverse that trend. The city annually pays out more than $115 million to the school district with little or no accountability. Board elections only attract 20 percent to 25 percent of voters. Rochester’s future depends on a successful school system.
—Brian Kane

A key to the successful growth of any city is its school system. The Rochester City School system is seriously flawed with an atrocious graduation rate. The worst the threat of Rochester taking the reins from the elected school board can do is to scare them into doing something that has been proven to work somewhere else. Not the same old thing they’ve been doing for the past all too many years. Bob Duffy has done better with the thankless job of Mayor of Rochester than the superintendent or the board has done with the Rochester City Schools. Give ’em hell, Bob!
—Clifford Jacobson, WebHomeUSA.com

I have favored mayoral control of the school board since I was on the board. It is important to understand that mayoral control in and of itself will have no effect on student performance. An initial benefit could be the gradual reduction of some expenses by consolidation of services, however. Improvements in student performance will come about only when the community systematically and effectively applies the resources necessary to overcome the missing and incompetent parenting that allows students to fail. Rochester does not have failing schools. It has failing families and failing students. A big advantage of mayoral control could be that the mayor would be able to use his resources and his bully pulpit to surround every student with the care necessary to make that student learning ready. If the mayor simply continues the old canards about teachers, unions, accountability and whatever, nothing positive will happen. Even in that case, mayoral control would be good, however, because the mayor would be responsible for student failure, and he wouldn’t be able to take the traditional route of blaming it on somebody else.
—Rob Brown

What we have had for many years has produced D- results for our students and our community. We need more parent involvement, higher quality teachers, better oversight and better accountability. The current system does not provide that and no matter what the rhetoric, the results speak for themselves. Time for an immediate change!
—C. Horwitz

Too bad Monroe County government does not have jurisdiction. They would probably be better at running it as they have better government and much higher rate of successful school systems.
—Mike Kaser, chief financial officer, PICS Telecom International

I would like to know what the mayor’s real qualifications are to assume this role. What education degrees does he hold? What other life experiences does he possess that makes him believe that he alone can solve the mess that is the Rochester school district? I think that his main concern is power and control, not the best interests of the children. I think such a move would be utter disaster.
—David L. Hunt, president, Hunt Sales Associates, Inc.

We have more than 750 governing bodies within New York State—and each has a stand-alone infrastructure. You do the math relative to what it is costing taxpayers. This is but the tip of the iceberg, and should become the norm for 2010 and beyond: consolidate, consolidate, consolidate.
—R. Stenglein, Pitney Bowes

Most would agree that the suburban schools in Monroe County are quite good. They are not dependent districts to any town or city government. Another alternative to evaluate is to let the RCSD become a taxing authority like the suburban schools.
—A.D. Hightower

One less level of bureaucracy might save some money and improve performance. Seems like more positives than negatives in city taking over control.
—Doug Lyon, Lyon Capital Management

Given the considerable impact that our children’s education has on the city’s economy and future competitiveness, this action was necessary. This first positive step will provide substantial accountability directly to the City of Rochester taxpayers under the oversight of the Mayor and city administrators. The RCSD should aim to become the best city school district in the nation with full cooperation from the city’s administration, RCSD board, teachers/educators, teachers’ unions, parents and students working together to make it happen for the children of Rochester.
—Scott D. Upham, president and CEO, Valient Solutions Market Research

This "No" vote is based on lack of information. I would perhaps be in favor of it if the mayor had better described how he thinks city control would change things. Is he planning to spend more money if he has control? Lots of questions to be answered before I support the change.
—Craig Epperson

This is a very difficult question. Do I trust Bob Duffy and his administration more than the current dysfunctional RCSD school board? Absolutely. But will our next mayor be up to the task? And in the long-term, is this the best decision for the balance of power?
—Todd VanHouten

If the mayor had a plan on how to achieve the 90 percent graduation rate he could be a very successful nationwide consultant. Let’s review a plan first before actions are taken.
—Daniel Mossien, Mossien Associates Architects, PC

Mayor Duffy has proven his ideas work. If what we are doing currently does not produce desired results, why not look to alternative strategies? When I was in high school, it was basically unheard of not to graduate; it was what we did in the natural course of things. Education opens inherent boundaries unfortunately found in today’s challenging society.
—Taylor Whitney, Preserving the Past, LLC

I trust the Mayor Duffy’s judgment on this and believe he is proposing this in the best interest of both the city and the school district. I am a city resident and have witnessed over the years many of our friends leave the city as their children got older because of the schools. We need to change this and I believe we have a leader who is not a politician that can help us get there.
—Donna DeClemente, DDC Marketing

This would be a good idea if you can keep the traditional politics out of education. "Not that there is not any politics in education now." The benefits of this are simply a way of increased accountability for the dollars invested and a way to link community programs. There can be cost savings in operational costs and, here’s a way out thought, a way to hold employees accountable for the product they produce. Throwing more money at the issue is not the answer and think of the savings that could be had by having lower administrative costs, including unions, and a fair and equitably based salary structure benchmarked against industry in the area. I think the current superintendent has good ideas and has made good progress, but I also believe that all school districts can do better and improve their cost structure.
—Bob Stein

I believe that the extent of the "contribution" made by the city to the school system’s budget warrants more of a say in how it’s spent and also in accepting accountability for results. Seems like a fair request. I say give Mr. Duffy the OK. All the suburban districts control their own schools, why not the city? And, Mr. Duffy may also be able to address why, with the smallest teacher to student ratio of any of the local systems, the city district can’t get better results. Of course, Mr. Duffy would have to first beef up security and try to change the student culture from a gang to a group mentality but, if successful at that, he just may be able to get better results.
—Rick Bradley

The Rochester city schools have failed children and families for far too long. The failures have contributed to a public relations nightmare. Graduation rates are dismal, safety is on the mind of every student. Real estate values have been and will continue to be depressed until improvements are made. I’ve been around long enough and have a memory of recorded promises from every superintendent, board and union leader. Money has been thrown at the issue but it seems to go primarily for central office, teacher salaries (do you recall the 40 percent salary increases of approximately 15 years ago with the union promising improvements?) and more buildings—all despite a declining enrollment. There is no apparent embarrassment nor is there enough outrage. Duffy will certainly bring a new perspective. We need some boldness. We need the union to agree that it has been a part of the problem. We need fewer administrators in the office and more good people in the classroom. I would vote to pay (modestly) students for attendance with some built in standards for progress and performance. The lesson would be obvious, the effect far reaching—we cannot afford to lose yet another generation to a tradition of failure and poverty.
—Bob Miglioratti, Realtor

The City of Rochester’s School District has been in crisis since the concept of busing children around the city first came into play in the mid 1980s. This has hurt Rochester real estate values more than any single issue, which in turn hurts the entire city tax base. No parent wants to buy a home and not know that the local school is their child’s school. This is true in the suburban towns, as well. In addition, the city schools are now forced to pay the counties buses to bus children. Hello. No wonder Maggie Brooks reports a profit on the county’s transit system, the city’s school district pays all of her profit. This system is so broke that education and educational programs suffer at the hands of Monroe Counties bureaucrats. Is it any wonder the county wanted a "Bus Garage" built downtown? The single largest recipient for this bus terminal was to be city school-age children "transferring." Just one more reason we are fortunate that the mayor axed that building project. Giving the mayor control of the city’s schools are an essential step in going back to neighborhood schools and dropping this money pit of busing. No one other than a strong mayor would even address this concept. It will save the city’s budget millions while not taking one cent away from education. The politics of the "school board" is a non-starter for me. Let’s follow a leader who has our communities’ best tax interests and best educational interests. I say support Duffy!
—R. Bruce Lindsay, VP Marketing, RE/MAX Realty Group

I think most city taxpayers (including myself) were not aware of the city having to pay $119 million to the RCSD (as required by the state) and not have any oversight of it. With all due respect to the RCSD, most efficient organizations have "one CEO" or "one President" who is ultimately accountable for the success of that organization. He or she must be given a high level of authority and control in order to make decisions that will make the organization as successful as possible. It’s really not fair to Mayor Duffy to be accountable to the "organization," (city of Rochester) but not have the level of authority and control (RCSD) that he needs to maintain an efficient and effective organization. $119 million is too large an amount of money not to have a say in.
—Paul Anken, Lawrence Associates Agency

Let’s make it simple. We should move to charter schools. Force the schools to compete and earn the interest, and money, of the students and their families. We pay $18,000+ per student. The schools should be forced to make adjustments to improve their performance and desirability if they are unsuccessful. Reward results. At a minimum, we should investigate vouchers.
—Patrick Tobin

Mayoral control sets a bad precedent. The parents/taxpayers of RCSD students should have the right to elect their school board members, just as it is done in almost every other district in Upstate New York. No decision is as local as educational policy.
—Dave Daniels, Victor

I support Mayor Robert Duffy’s plans to seek city government control of the Rochester Central School District. Although the graduation rates have improved to 50 percent from 39 percent, that’s still far too low, given the financial resources that are expended by the Rochester Central School District. Think about it: a 50 percent graduation rate means that HALF of the children who should be graduating from the Rochester Central School District—are NOT graduating! How can such a poor graduation rate be considered as "acceptable" by anyone? We must do better—sooner than later—for the sake of city school children and the local community. From experience, we know what hasn’t worked—quite possibly, the mayor’s four-year trial plan will result in even greater improvements to the graduation rate, at least to 75 percent to 80 percent, if not the mayor’s stated goal of 90 percent.
—Ted Benjeski, Henrietta

I’m still concerned when one government agency wants to take over another, but if it can change the bloated, costly, ineffective system, then great. Everyone seems to think more money, teachers, and resources will solve the problem. Attitudes might need changing, as well. Some city high school teachers do not grade anyone less than 50 percent on a test, so that they don’t hurt the students’ feelings. What message does that send to students?
—Peter Dugan, RGH 

With some of the school district board members openly and publicly swore like people of low or no education, behave like people with no self respect and no shame, how can they be qualify to lead the school district. What kind of role models are they setting for the teachers and students? Those kinds of leaders could only lead the next generation into cycles of failure.
—Patrick Ho, Rochester Optical

Because of the maintenance of effort law that our dysfunctional state legislature slipped by us, Mayor Duffy has no choice. It’s another ridiculous mandate. The mayor is looking out for the taxpayers and the children of the city of Rochester. Over the years, the Rochester School Board and various school superintendents have failed both the tax payers and the schoolchildren. They have given in to the school unions year after year in contract negotiations. Instead of significantly reducing bloated pension contributions, vacation, holidays, sick days, health insurance, etc., to the level of the private sector they have casually kept the status quo. Not only have the taxpayers been burdened, the schoolchildren are cheated because the cost per employee is so high that less services are directly passed down. Of course, the state legislature and state education department have not reduced mandates because they have been hijacked by the school unions. Mayor Duffy has taken the "bull by the horns." His initiative will make it less likely that the school unions will have control over the tax payers hard earned money and that more benefits will go directly to the children.
—John Rynne, president, Rynne, Murphy & Associates, Inc.

The current state of our city school system is unacceptable. While only graduating a meager 45 percent of its students, it continues to draw a massive amount of funds yet insist on not being accountable nor submitting itself to the rigors of a total overhaul. It is time for change, our young people cannot wait another year, we cannot afford to lose another generation.
—Chip Toth

If any company were run like the RCSD, substantial changes would have occurred a long time ago. The overall results are atrocious, starting with a graduation rate below 50 percent. Superintendent Brizard is very capable and he is trying to execute his strategic plan but he is getting limited support from his school board and other constituencies. I can think of 119 million reasons to turn this operation over to Mayor Duffy and the city to better manage our Rochester City School system and give Brizard the support and tools necessary to unleash his strategic plan of increasing the quality of education and achieving substantially higher graduation rates. The current system is dysfunctional and broken and we are suboptimizing Rochester’s future by accepting these subpar educational results for our children, who will be forced to face the world in a less than prepared state. I applaud Mayor Duffy for stepping up to the difficult task of materially improving the city’s educational system.
—Ed Pettinella, Home Properties

RCSD, with its bloated, top heavy overpaid administration, consumes huge amounts of taxpayers’ dollars and produces a dismally unacceptable graduation rate. The mayor and city council should be given a chance to achieve success where others have failed. Start by requiring all RCSD administrators, principals, and vice principals to resign and reapply for their positions.
—Tom Shea, Thomas P. Shea Agency, Inc.

As a resident of the city of Rochester, I look forward to the possible tax savings of a consolidation of the RCSD and the city of Rochester. However, I am also concerned that a consolidation will not intrinsically mean that the school district will improve. We need to recognize that the problems of the RCSD go far beyond poor management and inefficient bureaucracy, and we need to be realistic about what mayoral control can achieve. RCSD classrooms are affected by deeply rooted and entrenched social problems that result in a high number of students who do not want to learn. The same dysfunctions results in disruptive behavior that makes it difficult for the students who do want to learn and the teachers who are doing their best to teach. Until we address these underlying issues, graduation rates will remain low, per-pupil costs will remain higher than suburban districts, and families will flee the city. As long as the city continues to lose residents, any tax savings from a consolidation will be outweighed by the loss of tax base.
—DeWain Feller

(c) 2010 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.
 

Majority supports city control of Rochester’s public schools

The majority of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll support Mayor Robert Duffy’s plan to seek city government control of the Rochester City School District.

The graduation rate has improved to 50 percent from 39 percent, but Duffy says, "we cannot accept graduation rates of less than 90 percent."

Currently, a state mandate requires the city to contribute $119 million annually to the school district. The city has no authority or oversight for school expenditures.

Of the two-thirds of respondents who currently do not pay Rochester property taxes, 79 percent favor city government control of the school district, while 21 percent are opposed.

Of the one-third who currently pay city property taxes, 85 percent favor Duffy’s plan to take control and 15 percent oppose the plan, for which few details have been released. Duffy has said, however, that if approved by the Legislature, the plan would be for a four-year trial period.

Roughly 840 readers participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted Jan. 4 and 5.

Do you favor city government control of the Rochester City School District?
Yes:                  No:
81%     19%
Do you currently pay city of Rochester property taxes (as a city residential and/or commercial property owner)?
 No:                  Yes:
67%     33%

COMMENTS:
Everything else has failed to prepare the majority of city school students for the real world. It’s high time we try something else. We are paying for a Rolls Royce and getting Yugo performance. If the mayor accomplishes nothing but reducing the cost of $20,000 per student per year, even by 10 percent, it would be a resounding success for taxpayers.
-Frank Orienter, overburdened city taxpayer

I am not certain that mayoral control is the right answer to the complex issues that the Rochester school district confronts on a daily basis, but given the failures of the last two decades, something radically different must be done or we will lose another generation of kids.
-John F. Hurley, Web Seal Inc.

We simply aren’t getting the kind of leadership from our elected school board that can help Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard move student and teacher performance to a higher level. That creates an opening for Mayor Duffy. I believe he and City Council can do better, and they should have the opportunity to try.
-Pam Klainer, founder,
Klainer Consulting Group LLC

I have favored mayoral control of the school board since I was on the board. It is important to understand that mayoral control in and of itself will have no effect on student performance. An initial benefit could be the gradual reduction of some expenses by consolidation of services, however. Improvements in student performance will come about only when the community systematically and effectively applies the resources necessary to overcome the missing and incompetent parenting that allows students to fail.
-Rob Brown

I believe the city should have more direct impact on the financial management. Education management should stay primarily with education-focused organizations. I support consolidation across multiple school districts in the Monroe County area. We need to reduce the social-economic-cultural barriers that currently exist between city residents and surrounding town/suburban residents, lower costs and foster best practices across the various schools.
-Mike Bleeg, Strategic Results

For $119 million annually, it’s obvious the city should have at least some economic input to RCSD. What the mayor can or will do to improve educational performance isn’t nearly so obvious.
-David Lamb

It seems to me that if the city has to provide such a substantial amount of money, then it should not only be entitled to some oversight of how the tax monies are allocated and spent but should also demand it. The mayor seems to be doing only what is right from a fiduciary standpoint, and I applaud him for that.
-Tom Meilutis

I would be in favor of the current administration running the school district, but I am unclear on where this ultimately might end up with a future mayor. In principle, I am against it, as I believe in more separation of government entities rather than compressing and upsetting the balance of power.
-D. Eaton, Reagan Cos., Fairport

Other than Mayor Duffy’s interest in control and his implied intent to reduce the $119 million funding of education-which has remained at that level since the 1990s-we know nothing of how he intends to improve graduation rates or any other education-related outcomes. Let’s hear some details. The operative word so far has been "control." The community needs to have some clear indications of what changes Mayor Duffy has in mind.
-Tom Gillett, NYSUT

1/08/10 (c) 2010 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

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