News and information on the Rochester City School District




      Poverty rises in the City

      The D&C report that poverty has risen in the City of Rochester. The D&C report that "A majority of children in three upstate cities lived in poverty in 2011, with Rochester ranking seventh in the nation for its percentage of poor children, U.S. census data released Thursday showed. Rochester had 54 percent of its youth under age 18 living in poverty, putting it in a class with Flint, Mich.; Camden, N.J.; Reading, Pa; and Cleveland. Gary, Ind., led the nation in childhood poverty at 69 percent, the data showed.
      Click this link to read a pdf file of the D&C article.

      Truancy in the RCSD

      The RCSD has a new truancy policy that has drawn some criticism as the District is proposing as a last resort to involve Child Protective Services (CPS). While I worry about how the District will implement this policy, fundamentally kids need to be in Schools. We can't afford to have them not in Schools.
      Click this link to read the City Newspaper article by Tim Louis Macaluso.

      The International Baccalaureate (IB) program offered starting in Kindergarten at Wilson Foundation Academy

      "The prestigious International Baccalaureate program has a worldwide reputation for teaching students critical thinking skills and preparing them for college...classmates at the city’s Wilson Magnet Foundation Academy are getting a jump start, given that Wednesday was their first day of kindergarten. Wilson welcomed 70 students into the first kindergarten class that will have the opportunity to spend their entire school career in the IB program. The district has had an IB program at Wilson Commencement High School for years, but has recently looked to expand the model to include middle and elementary school students."
      Click this link to read a pdf of the D&C article by Tiffany Lankes.

      State Targets RCSD for Intervention

      "The Rochester school district has been flagged as one of 70 "Focus School Districts" by the New York State Education Department. Twenty-two of Rochester's schools have been identified as "Focus Schools" by the SED, and 30 described as "Priority Schools." .
      Click this link to read a pdf of the City Newspaper article by Tim Louis Macaluso.
      Click this link to read the information from the NY State Education Department.

      New Data suggests the RCSD has less than 50% attendance rate

      New Data from the District suggests what has long suspected that the District's ability to track day to day attendance has been wrong. The new information suggests that the RCSD may actually have less than 50% attendance on a daily basis. This new information is in response to new demands from NY State to report accurate attendance numbers on weekly basis. The good news is that this points to an obvious way to increase Student learning. Having the students attend class.
      Click this link to read a pdf of the D&C article by Tiffany Lankes.

      210 RCSD Students Graduate in August

      210 RCSD students graduated with the class of 2012 after completing required courses during the RCSD summer School program.
      Click this link to read a pdf of the D&C article.

      RCSD: Superintendent's Employee Group (SEG) Title and Member Current Salaries 2012

      Chief of Youth & Family Services- Gladys Pedraza-Burgos
      Director of Security Operations – Lori Baldwin
      Deputy Superintendent of Administration – Anita Murphy
      Chief Financial Officer – William Ansbrow (9/1/12)
      Interim Chief Financial Officer – Vern Connors
      Information Technology Officer – Annmarie Lehner
      Directors Human Capital Initiatives:
      Harry Kennedy - $87,500.00
      Anne Brady - $85,000.00
      Alpha Daly-Majors - $111,500.00
      Derrick Jones - $84,000.00
      Confidential Secretary to the Superintendent – Celina Agron
      Sr. Director of Communications – Linda Dunsmoor
      Deputy Superintendent for Teaching & Learning - Beverly Burrell-Moore
      Internal Control Specialist – Jerry Rose
      Associate Counsels
      Michael Davis - $118,750.00
      Cara Briggs - $118,750.00
      Rashondra Martin - $116,000.00
      General Counsel- Charles Johnson
      Chiefs of Schools Shaun Nelms - $135,000.00
      Anne Brown-Scott - $135,000.00
      Chief of Staff – Patricia Malgeri
      Senior Director of Operations – Jerome Underwood
      Labor Relations Directors:
      Elizabeth Camp - $85,000.00
      Jamie Warren - $88,750.00
      Director of Recruitment – Maurice Snipe
      Director of Benefits – Deborah Berardi
      Certification Specialist – Daisy McFarland

      TOTAL: $2,997,875; with the superintendent, the SEG grand total is more than $3 million dollars in salary alone.
      To read more go to Lori Thomas's blog at
      A thanks goes to Lori Thomas for tracking down all of this information.

      Only 40% of RCSD Students pass Summer School

      D&C reporter, Tiffany Lankes, reports that only 40% of the 3700 to 4000 students in the RCSD Summer School pass. This in depth article reviews the RCSD summer school program and points out many problems with the program.
      Click this link to read a pdf of the D&C article by Tiffany Lankes.

      RCSD begins $325 million project to modernize Schools

      The D&C reporter, Tiffany Lankes, reports that "Work on the first phase of the project is under way, with construction crews at Schools 17, 50 and 58 as well as the Charlotte and Franklin high school campuses. All of those projects, with the exception of School 58, will be finished in time for the start of the 2013-14 school year. School 58, the largest of the renovation projects in the plan, will take two years."
      Click this link to read a pdf of the D&C article by Tiffany Lankes.


      D&C report that Staffing problems still plague RCSD

      With only weeks before school starts the fate of a 100s of City School teachers and staff is still unknown. This will cause disruption in multiple schools and School programs. The D&C reports that 250 teachers still not called back. This number of teachers could staff a half dozen elementary Schools.
      Teachers - laid off - 385 rehired - 126 uncertain - 259
      Administrators - laid off - 16 rehired - 12 uncertain - 4
      Non-classroom - laid off - 131 rehired - 40 uncertain - 91
      Paraprofessionals/Aide - laid off - 132 rehired - 14 uncertain - 118
      Hospital/Homebound - laid off - 18 rehired - 9 uncertain - 9
      view the whole article here

      General RCSD news

      9/6/11 - D&C article on Interim Superintendent Vargas' first 90 days. Click this link to read the pdf of the article.

      8/22/11 - D&C editorial focusing on the need for change and reform in the RCSD and calls for more help for those outside of the D&C read the article here

      8/18/11 - The D&C reports that during a meeting with Superintendent Vargas he released a new initiative to get parents and community members more involved in the success of the city schools. read the article here

      8/15/11 - $1 million grant boosts Rochester schools' work with refugee children target="_blank"read the article here

      8/15/11 - Post Rochester school audits to website read the article here

      8/15/11 - New center aims to guide RCSD youths read the article here

      8/8/11 - Rochester test scores down in English, but up in math. read the article here

      8/5/11 - The city gets $12 million to restructure failing schools. read the article here

      7/28/11 - Rochester schools renew focus on special-education issue. read the article here

      7/27/11 - Rochester School District continues condom discussion. read the article here

      7/23/11 - The RCSD chief wants to extend the 2011-12 school year. read the article here

      7/19/11 - Superintendent Bolgen Vargas names Mary Doyle his chief of staff. read the article here

      7/4/11 - Local reading program is helping autistic RCSD students. read the article here

      7/2/11 - A pact that two brothers made leads two RCSD students to graduate. read the article here

      RCSD Parents taking action
      5/8/11 - The Board has passed an inadequate budget. What is a parent to do, a lot. Click this link to find out what.

      Parents, Teachers, and Community Members from across the RCSD have been meeting to share information on the proposed Budget cuts, and to plan strategy to address the Budget cuts. Notes from these meeting are posted on line. Click this link to access these notes.

      4/28/11 - The members of the RCSD Adequate School Funding Facebook Page have presented the Board of Education with a list of 23 proposals for a combination on policy changes/budget cuts that the Board should consider. To read this list of suggestions click this link to download a pdf file of the proposals.

      What to do 4/23/11 - Click this link to go to a web page where you can instantly email all of the RCSD Board of Education Members plus Board of Regents Representatives.
      What to do the week of 3/13-3/19/11

      RCSD has passed draconian cuts to Schools in the District

      The RCSD under a new proposed policy called Equitable School Funding has passed dramatic cuts to School programs across the District. The cuts will lead to the elimination of 800 Teachers/staff, increase class sizes lead to cuts to essential and mandated programs and classes. The School of the Arts Principal, Ms. Brenda Pacheco, reported prior to the cuts being passed that they would lead to the elimination of High School Foreign Language Programs. This would put all RCSD students at a severe competitive disadvantage in applying for any college programs.

      Below are links to a number of materials and stories related to this issue

      Places to go to stay up to date
      To go to the RCSD Adequate School Funding Facebook page, click this link.
      To read more and join in discussions on this topic go to the Flower City Parent Network and go to the Forum Click this link to Forum on out.
      Education Accountability for Rochester Schools - Is a parents blog covering issues in the RSCD. Click this link to access the blog.

      RCSD 2010 Budget

      5/4/11 - The Board proposed a set of specific questions to the District Adminstration following the presentation of the Budget and the Public Hearings. The District initially refused to release this questions and answers but has released them.
      Budget Questions Round 2
      Comparisons of 2010-11 Programs
      Board of Education Action Items After Round 2 - April 13, 2011 2011-12 Proposed Budget
      Salaries of the Superintendent's Employee Group (SEG) in 2010
      2011-12 RCSD Draft Budget FTE Analysis by Union (RUN DATE MARCH 29, 2011)
      Additional program data covering suspensions, Alternatives to suspensions, etc...
      4/28/11 - The members of the RCSD Adequate School Funding Facebook Page have presented the Board of Education with a list of 23 proposals for a combination on policy changes/budget cuts that the Board should consider. To read this list of suggestions click this link to download a pdf file of the proposals.

      4/23/11 - An alternative budget proposal from a District Teacher
      District teacher Paul Conrow has made a specific proposal to the RCSD Board of Education on how to fund our schools. He has also had this printed in the Democrat and Chronicle. I agree with his proposition but would only say we should 60% of the District's funds go directly to Schools, instead of his 40%. Click this link to read Mr. Conrow's excellent proposal.

      4/8/11 - The Board proposed a set of specific questions to the District Adminstration. The District responded in a written document.
      Below are links to the District's response the specific Board questions. In reviewing these documents a few items immediately stand out. The first is that the District never completed a trial of ESF, so they are rolling out a completely untested funding stream based on a field trip to Baltimore, and a bunch of sit down meetings totally removed from the reality of the schools. Note they only went to a trip to one other city.
      The second point is that these people are completely disconnected from the day to day reality of the Schools. These cuts will completely decimate education in the City if they go through as planned, and the cuts will force the District to violate Federal Special Education laws.
      Below are the documents.
      The first document is a pdf of their questions and the District's responses. Click this link to download the pdf.
      The second document is a draft budget FTE analysis. Click this link to download the pdf.
      The third document is a excel file summarizing the specific cuts by position. Click this link to download the excel sheet.

      4/5/11 - The Rochester Teacher's Association has released a preliminary budget analysis of the 2011-12 Budget and has concluded that instead of a $80 million budget gap the city is facing a $15 million budget gap. Click on this link to download a pdf file of their budget analysis.

      The RCSD Budget page. Click this link to access.
      Superintendent's 2010-11 Budget Presentation (large pdf file). Click this link to download.
      The RCSD 2010-11 Budget and Budget Book. Click this link to download a very large pdf file.

      Many individuals have posited that one of the reasons that the RCSD has such a big budget gap is because the District is trying to grow new schools and program while the enrollment is decreasing and costs are increasing. The attached spreadsheet confirms that thought. The spreadsheet provides information on the proposed changes in regards to the specific schools and the amount of increase or decrease in the Schools funding for the 2011-2012 school year.
      Click this link to download the excel data.

      Comprehensive Annual Financial Report of the Rochester City School District: A Component Unit of the City of Rochester, New York For the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 2010. Click on this link to download a pdf file of this report.

      A parent with two children in the RCSD has created a spreadsheet analyzing the 2010-11 budget. The figures are pretty shocking particularly when looked at in regards to the amount of money directly going to schools. According to their analysis the District spends 40% of its funds directly to Schools, while 60% of its funds do not go directly to Schools.
      Click this link to download an Excel chart put together by this other parent with the 2011 Budget data.

      RCSD Internal Audits
      The RCSD has performed a series of 23 internal audits. The Democrat and Chronicle had put in a FOIL request for these audits. In March the District released 3 of these which were very heavily redacted. A coalition of parents and parents groups have demanded that the District release these. To read stories about this issue read these stories.

      5/1/11 - City Newspaper article from 4/19/11 "Audits, Management, and Rochester's Schools." To read the article on line click this link. The City Newspaper website also has links to the actual audits on line. Click this link to download the pdf of the file.

      4/6/11 - RCSD releases 15 new audits. Click this link to download a pdf file of the D&C article.

      4/4/11 - Education Group calls for release of RCSD audits. Click this link to download a pdf file of the D&C article.

      3/26/11 - RCSD Board votes not to release internal audits as they may but the District at risk for liability. Click this link to download a pdf of the D&C article.

      3/11/11 - The RCSD School Board Audit committee wants the District to release details from internal RCSD audits. The D&C had put in a FOIL request and received reports with over 90% of the information redacted. Click this link to read a pdf file of the D&C article.

      The District has now agreed to release the audits.
      The first 8 of these have been released. Click this link to download the pdf file of these first 8 audits.

      Rochester and the Broad initiative
      Superintendent Brizard and Assistant Superintendent John Scanlon are both graduates of the Broad Institute. Eli Broad is a billionaire who is spending part of his money in an effort to reform urban education. While this is admirable, may people are not happy with how his graduates are using his teachings to reform urban schools.
      There have been a number of Broad trained Superintendents who have caused considerable controversy in their Districts. Click this link to read an article from San Franciso "How to tell if your School District is infected by the Broad Virus". 4/11/11 - Parents fight back against the Board Agenda. Click this link to read about Board Superintendents across the Country including mention of Superintendent Brizard.

      What is Equitable Student Funding (ESF)
      The RCSD Board had a study session on 1/6/11 to discuss the Equitable Student Funding (ESF) system. In notes from an attendee, they noted that "One of the key points from that evening's presentation by Mr. Scanlon was that in almost all other districts where ESF had been implemented in the past, there were "hold harmless" approaches meaning that schools that were considered to be 'over resourced" according to the mix of students would not be subjected to cuts. Rather, the "under resourced" schools with students with higher needs would see increases." It has been reported that the district paid Educational Resource Strategies $115,000 to consult on the ESF.
      Click on this link to download a pdf file (large) of the presentation.

      Reports on ESF
      3/21/11 - An Analysis of Weighted School Funding in Ohio.
      Click this link to read the report.
      To read more on ESF, read this paper on The Dutch Experience with Weighted Student Funding: Some Lessons for the U.S.
      Click on this link to read the paper.
      Another paper on Reflections on Equity, Adequacy and Weighted Student Funding.
      Click on this link to download the paper.
      A paper on Within-District Resource Allocation and the Marginal Costs of Providing Equal Educational Opportunity: Evidence from Texas and Ohio.
      Click on this link to download a pdf of the paper.

      What does ESF mean. The School of the Arts Principal held a number of public talks on what ESF will mean if the enacted as proposed to this urban arts school. Click on this link to download the slide presentation from her talk.
      RCSD Budget Information Resources
      4/28/11 - Education Accountability for Rochester Schools - Is a parents blog covering issues in the RSCD. Click this link to access the blog.
      Flower Children Parent Network Newsletter with a great description of the current budget issues. Click on this link to read the newsletter

      Parent and RCSD Teacher Dianne Watkins spoke at the 4/12/11 RCSD Board Meeting. She tells the Board that no new Superintendent will be able to figure out the craziness that Superintendent Brizard has brought to the District.

      Parent video on the RSCD Budget and Adequate School Funding
      The RCSD Adequate School Funding group developed this video to highlight an alternative way to fund the RCSD Schools.

      Parent video "ESF stands for what?" on the RSCD Budget and Adequate School Funding
      The RCSD Adequate School Funding group developed this video to highlight concerns about the proposed cuts in the RCSD 2011-12 Budget.

      What do the Students say?
      School of the Arts Student video on the Budget Cuts.

      Superintendent Brizard give a circle up the Wagons Speech to Central Office Staff
      . Superintendent Brizard and Chief of Staff John Scanlon gave a talk to Central Office Staff on 3/23/11. As I watched it. I took some notes. These are my observations, but may not be yours.
      As you watch listen to Superintendent Brizard's choice of words. He starts early on with a reference to "Those of us in the trenches". He frequently, as you will see uses references to warfare. Here I thought we were in the business of education. He states that we are being watched by others outside of the city. By whom? and who is he really trying to impress? He should be wanting to impress us. He refers to the push back on school based budgeting and he admits it hasn't worked in a number of places. Then why are we trying it? He refers to the fact that ESF hasn't worked in Seattle because the "haves did not want to equalize with the have nots." I personally don't see any millionaires enrolling their kids in the RCSD, so who are the haves? This is a classic bit of pitting one group versus another for control over what? Under funded City Schools?. He states "it is the battle you have in poor urban centers" Again a reference to Warfare?. So who is the enemy but we better circle up the wagons. Principals are not happy with ESF because they don't want control or autonomy? So why did they become principals unless they wanted to be a leader? He makes a reference to "the new battlefront" - Again warfare - everyone gear up we must be going to war- against who or whom? In regards to the 5% rate of college readiness he says it is a joke and meaningless, because the way the data was analyzed. So if another District scored at 80% that was a joke as well and that Superintendent is telling his staff it was a joke. But then he states that OK maybe we're not doing great with Black and Latino males (roughly about half of the District's students). Then he makes a comment that we don't try to explain anything in the media? So how are parents or the community at large supposed to learn anything. He discusses network teams - and why are we hiring people while we are laying off people - hiring more administrator's 3 more administrators for each school chief. So we are getting rid of teachers but hiring more administrators. If we have less staff who are they going to supervise? He states that the principal's top job is to train their teachers - I thought it was to be a leader and a CFO? He states that we can't cut central office anymore - but as he already said we are adding 9 more administrators. Nine administrators with salary and benefits equals how many teachers? He again makes a reference to the battle. So to summarize its Central Office staff versus everyone else in the District and in the community.

      John Scanlon's piece of the talk is also very concerning. In regards to this year's budget he refers to the fact that "if you want to dig into the Archive" do so to find it. It's this year's budget, it shouldn't be in the archive. The school year isn't over yet. he mentions that the reserve funds are down to probably 16 or 17 million dollars. (John - do you think you could know the actual number - there is a big difference, a million dollar difference). He infers that we have our finances are so bad that our reserve funds are not there to cover what they are supposed to cover!!!! This is a serious issue. He mentions that the budget trouble comes from things like that fact that gas prices have gone up (The District didn't seriously think that gas was going to go up in price? ) John states that contracts are fixed. So have they honestly tried to renegotiate any of those contracts. That's what businesses do when costs increase - if we are getting wireless from Frontier - let's get a quote from Time Warner. So one impression from this video is that we need to get a Chief of Staff who actually knows the difference between 16 or 17 million dollars and a budget office that actually realizes that gas prices may go up. While we're at it - let's get a Superintendent who doesn't financially mismanage the District so that there are not enough reserve funds to cover what they are supposed to cover. To hear other parents comments on this video check out the RCSD Adequate School Funding Facebook page. It has been a bit of a hit.

      Bill Cala's vision for Rochester

      Bill Cala, former Fairport School District Superintendent, and former interim Superintendent of the Rochester City School District gave a speech to the anti poverty group Metro Justice on May 2, 2010. In it he outlines the need for change, some of the reasons change is so difficult, and ideas for how the RCSD can improve.
      Click on this link to read a City Newspaper Article about the Story.

      RCSD looks to modernize Schools but is taking on significant debt to do so

      The RCSD is about en engage in a $325 million dollar Facilities Modernization Program (FMP) to work on the Districts' aging buildings. The City Newspaper reports that "The FMP legislation authorizes the Rochester Joint Schools Construction Board to borrow money on behalf of the city school district for the construction work. The state would later reimburse the money so the school district can re-pay the debt." Not all of the Money for the project will, however, come from the State government. The District will need to pay anywhere from 15 to 20% of the cost. Board member Willa Powell has expressed concerns about the District's ability to pay for these costs down the road.
      Click on this link to read a City Newspaper Article about the Story.

      Rochester City Government approves RCSD borrowing
      4/27/11 - The City approves the RCSD bonding of $12 million for project to start for 2010-11 summer work. Click this link to download a pdf file of the story.

      Return on Educational Investment

      A new recent report from the Center for Educational Progress was recently released. The report Return on Educational Investment: A District-by-District Evaluation of U.S. Educational Productivity provide a District by District assessment of the return on educational investment. This includes a review of Districts in NY State. The authors of the report note that: "Our aims for this project, then, are threefold. First, we hope to kick-start a national conversation about educational productivity. Second, we want to identify districts that generate higher-than-average achievement per dollar spent, demonstrate how productivity varies widely within states, and encourage efforts to study highly productive districts. Third—and most important—we want to encourage states and districts to embrace approaches that make it easier to create and sustain educational efficiencies."
      This study was reviewed in the Democrat and Chronicle. In the Democrat and Chronicle article the RCSD was rated in the lowest achievement/lowest cost range. The Democrat and Chronicle reported that "The City School District was rated as having the lowest spending for the lowest results. The reported administrative costs for the city school district - 15 percent of the budget - was the highest in the county, and the portion spent on instructional needs - 58 percent - was one of the lowest."
      Click on this link to download a pdf file of a Democrat and Chronicle newspaper article on how local Districts compare on cost and efficacy.
      Click on this link to download the pdf file of the report.



      City Schools implement RTI to reduce special education classification?

      An article in the City Newspaper by Tim Louis Macaluso on December 9, 2009 reports that the RCSD has started a pilot program in 14 City Schools to attempt to implement the Response to Intervention (RTI) model to try to head off special education classification. RTI was written into the last amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). The idea behind RTI is to identify students with learning disabilities early and then provide them with a progressive two tiered system of interventions to provide them support to remediate their learning problems. If Level 1 supports are not sufficient they are provided more intensive supports (Level 2), and if these are not successful they are then classified and given special education supports. Legally, however, RTI only applies to students with probable Learning Disabilities. It does not apply to any other special education classification category. Additionally the district and parents can choose to not use the RTI process for students with Learning Disabilities and instead use the old discrepancy model. RTI also does not legally apply to any students who are already classified. So moving someone from classification to RTI would in most cases make absolutely no sense.

      Comptroller Audit finds spending in the RCSD wasteful

      David Andreatta o Staff writer o December 2, 2009 Democrat and Chronicle
      For years, the Rochester school board failed to protect the district's financial interests from waste and abuse by past superintendents and their top aides, taking little or no action to control tens of thousands of dollars in undocumented bonuses and salaries and the awarding of millions of dollars in no-bid contracts, state auditors charge.

      The audit, by the Office of State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, paints a portrait of a complacent board reluctant to question the authority of district superintendents between July 2002 and September 2008, some of whom ran roughshod over board policies or exploited loopholes at taxpayers' expense.

      A draft of the audit, to which the board has yet to formally respond, was obtained in advance by the Democrat and Chronicle. The audit says the district has 90 days to come up with a corrective action plan.

      On Tuesday, a board member called the audit "old news" that the district has already taken steps to correct.

      Among the audit's findings:
      • Former Superintendent Manuel Rivera compensated employees he appointed to his
      • Cabinet with $164,550 in undocumented bonuses and salaries.
      • Fifty-eight service contracts totaling $2.6 million were awarded without requests for bids.
      • Several contracts totaling more than $900,000 went to a vendor who had a personal relationship with former Chief Financial Officer Henry Marini.
      • Contracts in excess of $25,000 were executed prior to board approval.
      • Changes to construction contracts altered their costs so much that the change orders should have been bid out as separate contracts.
      "The board's failure to develop sound policies to manage district resources, its unwillingness to monitor district finances, and its deference to the individuals holding the superintendent's position resulted in a poor control environment," the audit read. "... Ultimately, taxpayers pay the cost." While the audit covers a period of six years and does not identify superintendents or top aides by name, the bulk of the activities that auditors found objectionable took place during the Rivera administration.

      Nonetheless, auditors raised questions about what measures, if any, are in place today to address the flaws they identified. For example, auditors found that when the former superintendent appointed a new employee to his Cabinet in July 2005, he backdated the employee's appointment to Sept. 30, 2003, thereby entitling the employee to benefits that were not available to appointees after that date.

      Rivera was the superintendent from August 2002 to April 2007. Messages left for Rivera, now an executive at an education consulting firm, on his cell phone and his offices in Rochester and New York City were not returned. According to the audit, members of the superintendent's Cabinet received 137 bonuses totaling more than $550,000 from July 2002 to December 2007. Auditors reviewed 30 bonuses and could not find any documentation supporting why 27 of the raises were warranted.

      Under Rivera, the former chief legal counsel and chief financial officer received raises exceeding those set out in rules governing the Cabinet, known internally in the district as the Superintendent's Employee Group. Marini, the chief financial officer, received a pay increase of $23,200, almost 18 percent, even though the rules dictated that raises must not exceed 5 percentage points beyond the consumer price index.

      While the audit blamed the board for failing to exercise oversight of the salaries of Cabinet appointees, it noted that the board terminated the contracts of eight appointees after the privileges of their contracts were brought before the board in the summer of 2007 by former Interim Superintendent William Cala. At the same time the audit noted that the board took no action to improve the oversight of future contracts. A phone message left for Cala late Tuesday was not returned.

      Malik Evans, who joined the board in 2004 and became president in 2008, called the audit "old news" that raised deficiencies in protocol that the board has since taken actions to correct, including by ousting some top officials. "The period in which the auditors are talking about had entrenched, bureaucratic people in the system who worked the system and it was a disgusting display of arrogance," he said. Evans added that the board is currently seeking legal advice on modifying contracts of appointed employees. "We will be able to respond to this and show that 90 percent of what the audit talks about is no longer a problem," Evans continued. "In my mind, the state comptroller was interested in rehashing old news." The audit was part of a sweeping comptroller's statewide initiative to review the finances of all school districts by 2010.

      Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard, in a telephone interview, expressed frustration that the audit had been leaked to the Democrat and Chronicle prior to the board having a chance to respond. He said board officials are scheduled to have exit interviews with auditors today. Brizard said many of the privileges granted to Cabinet members in the past have been eliminated - including bonuses and tuition for graduate degrees - but acknowledged that muddy language in the regulations leaves room for unwarranted benefits to be granted and hampers board oversight. "I would say the majority of the issues raised have been cleaned up, but certainly not all of it," Brizard said. "There are a lot of structural issues that we have to fix."

      The audit harshly criticized the district for failing to effectively monitor contracts, from ensuring that contractors were doing their jobs to submitting invoices on time. But what appeared to most disturb auditors were the lack of controls in place to keep the district from paying contractors when officials had expressed justifiable suspicions that the work was not being completed. For example, a consultant that was hired to provide services related to upgrading district buildings was paid $390,000 between April 2006 and December 2007 despite failing to deliver the work on time, billing the district to attend conferences without district approval, and conducting "faith based meetings and outreach" sessions that had nothing to do with the job. Auditors found that district officials "repeatedly raised concerns and questions" about the consultant, who shrugged off demands that proof of the work be provided. "Despite the consultant's lack of responsiveness and questionable charges for attendance at conferences, the district still paid," the audit read. "This is a direct result of the district's failure to implement an effective management policy."

      Special Education in the Rochester City School District

      There is a tremendous amount of concern among parents, community residents, and community advocates about the quality of special education services in the City of Rochester. Many individuals and even school district employees are often unaware that for many years special education in the City was provided under court ordered supervision through a Consent Decree monitored by the Federal Court. That case ended in 2002. Since that time a number of concerns have arisen that the school district is failing to provide its students with educational handicapping conditions with a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). For more on this click this link to read an article by attorney Jonathan Feldman, of the Empire Justice Center.

      Study gives poor marks for special education in city

      David Andreatta Staff Writer February 5, 2009
      To download the report, click on this link.

      Special education in the Rochester School District has a litany of deficiencies, including inadequate referral practices, too many segregated classes, poor collection of data and confusion about staff responsibilities, according to a new study.

      The 54-page report, provided to the Democrat and Chronicle and expected to be released this week, comes seven years after the school district was told it no longer had to operate under a court-imposed consent decree over its handling of students with disabilities.

      About 6,000 of the district's 33,000 students receive special education, putting Rochester in the top fifth of large urban school districts with such a large percentage of special needs students. The cost of educating a special education student can range from $35,000 to $80,000 annually.

      The study was conducted over six months by independent experts organized by the Council of Great City Schools, an association of the nation's 66 largest urban school districts.

      Researchers concluded there was potential for Rochester to have among the best special education programs in the nation and commended the superintendent, Jean-Claude Brizard, for requesting the review and opening the district's practices to scrutiny.

      The district has already acted on many of the report's recommendations, including hiring a director of special education. But district officials said in an interview that it would take time to reverse a system that they acknowledged hastily classifies students as in need of special services and is slow to intervene when concerns are recognized.

      "The last resort in many cases should be special education," Brizard said. "In our district, it seems to be the first response."
      Problems with special education in Rochester date back decades. A class action lawsuit brought against the district in 1981 led to a series of court orders that governed the city's special education system from 1983 to 2002.

      Among the complaints of the parents and advocates who sued was the district's failure to properly evaluate students for special services and place them in general education classes where possible. They also claimed that parents were shut out of the decision-making process.

      A federal judge in 2002 released the district from its consent decree, citing significant improvements. But the latest study suggests many of the shortcomings raised years ago persist.

      Citing district data, researchers noted that students with disabilities are placed in separate schools at a higher rate and in general education programs at a lower rate than the national average.

      "Getting services is a function of who you know and how big your voice is," one parent told researchers, who said the opinion sums up those of most parents.

      "This raises serious questions about whether there has been significant backsliding," said Bryan Hetherington, a lawyer with the Empire Justice Center whose lawsuits in the 1980s and 1990s led to the court intervention, and who learned of the study's details from the Democrat and Chronicle.

      District officials would not provide a timeline for overhauling the system but said that they were committed to adopting the recommendations in the report.

      One change officials said would be implemented soon would be requiring committees on special education  the panels that determine which students qualify for service to hold their meetings in students' home schools rather than at district headquarters.

      As it stands, the chairperson of those meetings and a panel psychologist rarely know anything about the child they are discussing besides the contents of the child's file. School psychologists familiar with the student often are asked to leave the meetings.

      Officials estimated the district spends more than $1 million a year hiring substitute teachers to cover for special education teachers who have to travel to attend the approximately 15,000 meetings a year.

      The Council of Great City Schools conducted the study pro bono with aid from The Broad Foundation, of Los Angeles, which gives grants to improve public education and from whose training program for urban educators Brizard graduated in 2007.

      Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of Great City Schools, said Rochester's special education issues mirror those of other urban school districts but that its response to the findings was unique.

      "We were encouraged by how aggressively the superintendent and his staff embraced the report even when it was critical of the district," Casserly said. "It is not something that we always see when we do these kinds of reviews."

© Copyright, all rights reserved Daniel J. DeMarle, Ph.D. 2014