New York’s worst school district is paying its board of commissioners more than any other in the state.
It’s an offensively ironic situation that’s prompting some to call for a change in light of a recent assessment by a state-appointed watchdog that found “a total reset” in district leadership is the only way for the Rochester City School District to correct course after decades of dysfunction.
Democrat & Chronicle columnist David Andreatta made the case for re-evaluating board members’ five-figure salaries in a recent editorial.
“Why are we paying the school board members so much?” Andreatta wrote. “Of the roughly 700 school boards in New York, only a handful pay their elected representatives, and the rate of pay in Rochester tops the list by a mile.
“Arguably the worst school district in the state pays its board commissioners the most,” he wrote.
Andreatta points out Rochester board members pay themselves $27,033 a year, though President Van White’s salary is $34,758. He explained that high pay is a tradition that dates back to 1905, and it’s tied to 70 percent of the pay for the Rochester City Council and its president.
The pay is roughly double what the vast majority of much larger school districts pay elected board members, despite the fact that Rochester isn’t even within the top 100 districts by enrollment.
A report by a state-appointed consultant released in mid-November highlighted 106 findings that exposed a wide variety of problems contributing to the district’s dismal student performance, many of which stemmed from the board’s ineptitude.
“The system’s failure to deliver high-quality education to all its students has resulted in teachers, principals, central office administrators, and even some board commissioners and the mayor seeking alternative educational settings for their own children,” wrote Jaime Aquino, a “distinguished educator” who compiled the report.
The report contends the school board has intervened and micromanaged day-to-day operations, failed to create a common curriculum, and lacks structure and a clear chain of command. The board needs to develop multiyear strategic and financial plans and overhaul the way it communicates with everyone, from the central office to schools, teachers and principals to parents and students, and within district leadership itself, the Democrat & Chronicle reports.
“At this time it’s very embarrassing … but I also look at it as an opportunity,” Rochester school board commissioner Cynthia Elliott said earlier this month.
“I don’t think there’s anything in (the report) that any commissioner should be surprised about, to be honest with you,” fellow commissioner Beatriz LeBron added.
The effects of the district’s dysfunction has been evident for years, both in the budget and in the classroom.
Last year, only 8 percent of the district’s fourth-graders tested proficient in English language arts. The same percentage tested proficient in math.
Those same percentages were 24 percent and 40 percent respectively when students were tested in 1999, according to the district’s state report cards.