Nearly two-thirds of respondents to this week’s Rochester Business Journal Daily Report Snap Poll say voter approval should be required on the divisive issue of mayoral control of the Rochester City School District.
By a wider margin of 76 percent to 24 percent, most readers said they personally favor City Hall control of the schools.
A day after mayoral control legislation was introduced in Albany last week, a new coalition of public officials and business and union leaders announced its support for the measure. The Rochester Kids First Coalition is co-chaired by retired City Council president Lois Giess and Robert Brown, president of Local 435, Laborers International Union of North America.
Another group, the Community Education Task Force, has been working to rally opposition to the plan, first proposed by Mayor Robert Duffy some six months ago.
With the issue sharply dividing the community, some area lawmakers have said they favor a referendum to place the matter in the hands of city voters.
Of those who responded to this week’s poll, 29 percent currently pay city property taxes.
Readers weighed in on this topic earlier this year. In the January poll conducted shortly after Duffy first proposed the change, of the two-thirds of respondents who said they didn’t pay Rochester property taxes, 79 percent favored city government control of the school district, while 21 percent were opposed. Of the one-third who said they paid city property taxes, 85 percent favored Duffy’s plan to take control and 15 percent opposed it.
Roughly 480 readers participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted June 14 and 15.
Should voter approval be required for mayoral control of the city schools?
Do you personally favor mayoral control of the city school district?
Do you currently pay city of Rochester property taxes (as a city residential and/or commercial property owner)?
Here are some comments from readers:
The effectiveness of mayoral control over any city school district (locally or elsewhere) would hinge on the current candidate. There are already too many decisions that get made in Albany and at the national level about education that are made by politicians and not teachers and administrators who are in the schools, and more importantly in the classrooms. As a former Rochester City School District teacher, I would have had the utmost confidence in Mayor Robert Duffy; however, his predecessors would be a different story—an unknown. There is too much at risk with our students and our community’s future. The issues are complex, and there is no easy solution. However, I do believe that narrowing the control of the city schools to an ineffective mayor in the future, or even simply someone who doesn’t understand or know the complexities of all that can help or hinder educators teach children, would be devastating.
This is a perfect topic for the voting public to begin being allowed to truly be represented in our legislative process. At the risk of painting with a broad brush, our elected officials have lost alignment in voting the will of the people they represent. —Kevin Kenny
The CSD is struggling to do its best with what it has to work with. I believe (Superintendent Jean-Claude) Brizard is the right man for the job and (Rochester Teachers Association president Adam) Urbanski is a great advocate for the educators. The problem is rooted in the majority of students who come from broken-down, welfare homes—no father figure, no self-discipline, no respect, no work ethic and a lack of positive direction. It is the plague of welfare that is the common denominator. … The hallowed grounds of education should not be reduced to day care centers. In the end, who controls the CSD is not 1/10th as important as how and who raises the children.
With a 46 percent graduation rate, there is little that can be said for the current setup. Mayoral control should be given a real chance with measurable goals and target dates to reach them. Since school taxes make up roughly two-thirds of the city tax bill, it would be in the best interest of all city residents to put this up for a vote.
—John Stevens, CellularMD
If people think that control of the schools would matter, they are kidding themselves. Poor graduation and attendance are not symptoms of bad leadership; they are symptoms of the communities that surround the schools. Clean up the crime in Rochester and then worry about school leadership.
—Kenny Harris, EPIC Advisors
In the past, the business community has placed emphasis on keeping our college graduates in the area, but the need for educated citizens starts with our city school system. We need to apply the same efforts to improve our graduation levels. The current system needs improvement, and a new approach is necessary. Based on statistics from other areas and the coalition efforts, mayoral control could be the successful change we all need.
—Nancy May, APPC
The referendum is a political red herring and stalling tactic! Voter turnout for school board elections has always been abysmal. Of course, that could be due to a poor choice of candidates. The sad reality is that if parents were really concerned about educational outcomes, we wouldn’t have the schools we have. I’ve attended most of the public forums and it’s the same, small group of people who always show up to oppose mayoral control. The truth is, most concerned taxpayers and parents want strong independent leadership of the schools. Too many current school board members are beholden to the RTA and other special interests. This community has nothing to lose by giving mayoral control a chance; after all, we can’t do much worse.
—Frank Orienter, Rochester
I was lucky enough to have had Catholic and city school education. I believe we need to get the parents involved and make them liable for their kids—no more of this send them to school and let the school deal with the kid. Parents, take control of your children. Sorry, but it’s the truth. If I did half of what some of these kids do today, I would not be able to sit down for a week after my parents found out—not to mention the nuns at school would be able to take care of any issue that came up. Discipline and respect need to be brought back to our children at home and in school or there can be no improvement. I could go on for hours. Parents today do not have the respect for themselves or others, and this needs to change. In reality, it’s up to the people to decide where to take this—and PLEASE be a part of your kids’ future. Be a part of their education.
I do not believe the mayor should be in charge of schools. Duffy is a strong leader, but how much should one person do? Yes, the schools need help; get someone who has the longtime experience in schools. I am a contractor on the city list, and many homes I work in show a strong leadership role is needed at the schools. The strong police presence at each school is only working a little.
This is a very sensitive issue that I believe could be defeated based on emotion and not on logic; hence, the vote not to have a referendum.
It’s a big issue, so voters should have a say in this.
—J.P. Gleason, Gleason Fund Raising Consultants
The only issue with leaving this up to the voters is that business property owners are not given a vote, yet it’s their property that will be taxed. They are unrepresented in the overall vote. Perhaps a vote should be taken throughout Monroe County over the issue.
—Lee Drake, CEO, OS-Cubed Inc.
Something needs to be done! And one area the school board, teachers, etc. complain about is lack of resident and parent involvement. Let’s have a referendum.
I would be in favor of Bob Duffy running the schools, but the problem comes with the abilities of the next mayor. If it were Bill Johnson, definitely NO! I would not be willing to take the chance. The school district needs more consistency than a new mayor with new priorities every four years.
I am not a resident or taxpayer in the city. I personally like the idea of mayoral control as a trial, but I am not a stakeholder. There are no doubt the residents of the city who have been doing a bad job electing a school board and managing their schools; however, it is still their right to do so and fix it or face the peril. This situation should not be an excuse to take that right away. If they truly want a change, then they should have a say in the matter. And if they care enough they will make the change. People should not have their right to self-determination usurped by a defunct, corrupt, incompetent legislature that has demonstrated they are not good at anything. Further the idea of a benevolent monarch is bit of a slippery slope since time and time again the leap to despotism has proven to be not very far. The people of the city should be able to vote on it. That is the American way. Finally, whatever change is made should have a sunset rule so that the issue can be revisited after five years to see if such a change is working and needs to be amended, repaired or reversed.
I feel that political, i.e. mayoral, control does not change anything with the fundamentals of the city school system (the same would go for the suburbs, where I am living). I feel that it would be wiser to keep the present system and have the school district raise its own finances (as it is in the suburbs). I am also in favor to keep the running of the education out of the hands of politicians. They should concentrate on their own problems.
—Ingo H. Leubner, Crystallization Consulting
The only way I should be allowed to vote would be, if the mayor would now be in charge of the county, not just the city!
—Sonia Lochner, Realtor
Let’s face it. The current system that intended to be apolitical is political. The fact that the teachers’ union objects to the change suggests to me that the status quo is part of the problem. Upgrading our urban schools is a complex challenge. Charter schools should be part of the solution. The current school board has tunnel vision.
With Mayor Duffy potentially leaving for Albany, it is a question if the new mayor is willing/able to take on the job. However, the school board has proved to be ineffective, so let’s give somebody else a try. Also, since the city collects the school tax and funds the schools operation, it should have control over how the money is spent.
—Frank Weiner, Bridgekey
This one is pretty far out there. First, consider that the city of Rochester residents that could vote would not want the city to have control. Why? Because then there would be very local oversight of the money the schools get AND there just may be some "’splain’n" that would have to be done. Under the current system, the city ponies up the money but doesn’t have control over the spending. Very sweet for the schools, but lousy for the city. Kind of like paying alimony. Just pay it and shut up because it’s none of your business how it’s spent. Now, I don’t expect that one to change anytime soon, but it shouldn’t extend to a legitimate concern that the city has. And, besides—as we all know—there are an awful lot of voters who aren’t the (property) taxpayers. In a just situation, I definitely agree that the issue should be put up for a vote. In this one, probably not. Just too far out there.
Under our representative form of government, voter approval should not be required unless the city charter, state constitution or other law requires such a vote. The legislation sponsored in the State Assembly by Joe Morelle takes a balanced approach to assure public participation and accountability.
—Nathan J. Robfogel
My business is in the city of Rochester, so I pay Rochester city and school taxes. To stay out of poverty, the best thing parents and/or a city can do for their children is to have them graduate from high school and to wait until after they are married to have children. The Rochester City School System’s graduation rate is 47 percent. Our national out-of-wedlock birth rate for blacks is 72 percent. Throw as much money as you want at the group who doesn’t complete high school and doesn’t wait until they’re married to have children, and you’ll throw that much more money down the same hole. Anything we can do to honestly increase the Rochester city schools graduation rate is a must. Just our talking about and making moves toward mayoral control of the city schools will have a positive effect. As our president says about health care: "The status quo is unsustainable."
—Clifford Jacobson, WebHomeUSA.com
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