There is no question that RCSD is struggling. Four schools are in receivership, and an additional 10 schools are classified as Comprehensive Support and Investment (CSI) schools. Even with 14 schools classified as in “good standing,” the overall graduation rate of the district is only 54%. RCSD clearly needs drastic changes.
However, state takeover of RCSD is not the solution. We are disappointed that our mayor and state representatives would advocate for an undemocratic solution that does not address the root causes for why RCSD is struggling. We are even more disappointed that they expect the Rochester community to support any plan without sufficient detail on said plan. We do not know what a state appointed board would do differently, and how their different approach would improve the district. Instead, those supporting state takeover simply rest on empty “anything-but-the-status-quo” rhetoric to justify their position. We reject the idea that the sole alternative to a dysfunctional school board is state takeover.
The problem is not just that the RCSD School Board is dysfunctional; the board’s dysfunction is a symptom of systemic problems in the school district. RCSD is struggling because of a lack of genuine democracy in its governance, the consequences of systemic poverty, the disproportionate effects of mass incarceration, and the effects of a dwindling tax base to fund schools initiated by housing discrimination and white flight. The district needs school board elections free from party politics, for students and parents to have an organized voice in decisions about the district, and mass social movements that alleviate and make whole those local communities affected by systemic poverty and mass incarceration.
A state takeover does not address machine-like politics on the school board, it does not address systemic poverty, and it does not address the effects of mass incarceration or housing discrimination. It is our stance that without addressing systemic issues, one cannot hope to affect systemic change. Therefore, this proposal will not be sustainable and will ultimately be ineffective.
To address systemic poverty and mass incarceration, and the effects of housing discrimination, we need grassroots movements that organize workers for stable jobs that pay living wages with benefits, that organize our neighborhoods for universal health care statewide, and that decarcerate and develop restorative systems for justice and accountability.
As we build grassroots power to alleviate poverty and incarceration, we also need RCSD to be governed by the people that understand its challenges best and are most impacted by the district’s success. The people that should be making decisions about the RCSD budget, curricula, and programs are the students, parents, and teachers. School teachers and faculty have well-organized unions that provide them with some say in RCSD governance. The recent teachers’ union strikes in states like West Virginia made the case that the economic well-being of a school district’s residents and workers is linked to student success in schools. Such strikes have been an inspiring example of how grassroots organization of teachers within a school district can be a catalyst for lasting improvement in schools. However, the systemic overhaul RCSD needs for long-term success requires an organized voice for students to take action alongside teachers. We need to learn from the student movements in places like Philadelphia and in other countries like Chile. That means building a robust district-wide student union for RCSD -- high school students at the very least. That also means building a district-wide parent organization to support the efforts of faculty and student unions. It is our belief that students, teachers, and parents are equipped to find solutions to improve their own district. We should be building their power to do so, thus making the governance of the district genuinely democratic.
We don't need New York State to takeover district governance. We need New York State to adequately fund public education, creating necessary supports for students who struggle against concentrated poverty and racism while also trying to succeed in school. We reject the notion that a state takeover with an appointed board will fix a district plagued by patronage and machine politics. In fact, we view a state takeover with an appointed board as another example of undemocratic, machine-like politics that plagues not only our local community, but also our state and our country. Instead, we need to democratize the school board and ensure that the people most impacted - students, parents and teachers - have the most say in RCSD governance. Asking Rochester residents to vote away their right to an elected school board is anti-democratic politics masquerading as democratic.
Right now, the Mayor and state officials show their lack of trust and interest in the democratic process and therefore their lack of faith in the Rochester Community. We at Metro Justice believe that it is the people of Rochester that can address the root causes of RCSD’s problems by coming together. That is why Metro Justice is committed to building an RCSD Student Union and building partnerships with community organizations already dedicated to improving RCSD. RCSD needs transformation, and we believe that transformation must come from the people. Empower the people to reinvigorate our democracy and enact change that will allow RCSD to prosper for generations to come.