Featured Report: Review of the 2019-20 Rochester City School District Budget

The purpose of The Children’s Agenda’s review of the RCSD budget is to break open the budget process in a way that increases transparency, accountability and parent empowerment. We present information about RCSD revenue and expenditures, including changes proposed in the budget currently under consideration. We offer a detailed look at four areas that are prominent in parents’ concerns: special education, English language learners, school climate, and early childhood education.
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  • Position Code Summary – There should be a position summary by job code up front in the budget book. There is a wealth of information in the budget book but it is spread over too many departments and schools to provide parents a clear picture of what is changing.
  • Use Normal Accounting Practices – The favorable/unfavorable labeling should be replaced with negative and positive numbers.
  • Add Column for School-Based Position Changes – The current school budget format is very difficult to read and should be reimagined with a column for FTE changes.
  • Restore the 10 Teachers on Assignment The Roc Restorative Team has been essential to implementing restorative practices districtwide and will continue to be a vital resource as new schools adopt restorative practices and others deepen their work. These 10 positions must be restored to the student support budget.
  • Restore Funding For Help Zones and Other Building Supports The reduction in grant revenue used to contract with outside agencies like the Gandhi Institute, Partners in Restorative Initiatives, and Center for Youth that provide building level support for school climate must be restored using general funds. Without this funding 5 help zones will close, and fewer supports will be in place for peer mediation and restorative practices.
  • Ban Suspensions for Grades K-2 Given what we know about the damaging effects of suspensions on academics, and how important it is for a child to be reading by 3rd grade, there should be a ban on suspensions for K-2 students. Suspensions are an ineffective discipline tool, academically damaging, and developmentally inappropriate for young children during a period of rapid brain development.
  • Limit Long-Term Suspensions to 20 Days Long-term suspensions should be limited to no more than 20 days. Long-term suspensions have a detrimental impact on students’ academics and that damage is avoidable through fewer and shorter suspensions. Strict limits should be placed on long-term suspensions starting with a cap of 20 days.
  • Approve Robust Data Sharing Agreement and Quarterly Public Data Reports The Roc3D Dashboard launched by RCSD this school year is a commendable step towards transparency.  However, extensive quarterly reports should still be made public and discussed by the Board of Education and district leadership team. In addition, a robust data sharing agreement should be made with the Community Task Force on Positive School Climate, so that outside experts are able to dive deeper into the data and partner with the district leadership team on strategies for improvement.
  • Adopt the School Climate Advisory Committee Recommendations This report highlights a few key recommendations based on data from RCSD and interviews with members of the school community. This is not an exhaustive list. Members of the School Climate Advisory Committee have already developed an extensive list of recommendations that should be faithfully adopted.
  •  Train All Staff on the Code of Conduct The new code of conduct has a clearly defined discipline matrix. The matrix addresses a common concern among parents and staff that discipline is administered inconsistently. Training all staff on the new code of conduct and faithfully implementing the matrix will create consistency and provide detailed guidelines for handling common situations. Also, using the discipline matrix will reduce racial disparities in suspensions and promote alternatives to exclusionary discipline.
  • Adequate Staffing For Centralizing CSE – There should be at least 28 central staff (teachers and administrators) for the new central committee on special education (CSE) team. It is important this team is large enough to conduct all necessary meetings and evaluations, and have staff to provided embedded professional development in buildings.
  • Designate Assistant Principals who Handle Discipline – The assistant principal (AP) designated to chair annual reviews should also be the AP who handles discipline in their building. When these roles are combined it will reduce suspensions for students with disabilities as the AP will have a clearer understanding of what behaviors are a manifestation of a child’s disability.
  • Consistent Mandatory Professional DevelopmentIssues with compliance, student placements, and the quality of instruction are all impacted by a lack of consistent professional development. Every staff person interacting with students with IEPs should have the proper training to support those students, and to understand a tiered system of intervention and supports.
  • Align Continuum of Special Education ServicesPrograms and services that best meet students’ needs should be consistently available across school buildings. Every program or building change for a student with disabilities is disruptive to the learning process. To align different programs for so many students across such a large school district is very complicated.  This requires a comprehensive multi-year plan with parent and community input. While all programs cannot be available in every building, there should be a good faith effort to make program availability more predictable and consistent.
  • Consistent Mandatory Professional DevelopmentIssues with compliance, student placements, and the quality of instruction are all impacted by a lack of consistent professional development. Every staff person interacting with students with IEPs should have the proper training to support those students, and to understand a tiered system of intervention and supports.
  • Align Continuum of Special Education ServicesPrograms and services that best meet students’ needs should be consistently available across school buildings. Every program or building change for a student with disabilities is disruptive to the learning process. To align different programs for so many students across such a large school district is very complicated.  This requires a comprehensive multi-year plan with parent and community input. While all programs cannot be available in every building, there should be a good faith effort to make program availability more predictable and consistent.
  • Permanent Location for Bilingual Language and Literacy Academy The Bilingual Language and Literacy Academy needs a permanent home. The current lease at 30 Hart Street is for 3 more years. The program will be more stable and offer more academic and enrichment opportunities for its students if it is housed in a permanent school building that shares space with other students. Housing the Bilingual Language and Literacy Academy at another school will also allow for staffing efficiencies.
  • Strategic Plan for English Language Learner Achievement and Alignment – The significant and authentic needs of Latina/o’s and other English Language Leaners make it imperative that we have an aligned plan in Latina/o studies, English for Speakers of Other Languages and Bilingual Education. A strategic plan to add structure and direction for each across the district should be created.
  • Path to Certification for Uncertified Bilingual Staff – There are many bilingual professionals serving as long-term substitutes in RCSD. Teachers that are working per diem are paid at a much lower rate, lack stability, and do not have access to certified employee benefits. Many of these bilingual professionals will leave for better jobs without a sustainable financial commitment from RCSD and an affordable path to certification.
  • Evaluate Effectiveness of Moving Preschool Special Education into Specialized Services – While shifting PSE out of the Early Childhood Office may seem to be the best option given the critical shortage of providers, the impact of this move should be closely evaluated throughout the 2019-20 school year. Preschool Special Education differs from School-Age Special Education in a number of important ways, including: PSE works closely with the County Department of Health, it manages children transitioning from the Early Intervention program, and it relies heavily on community-based organizations to both identify children in need of services and to deliver those special educational services. If it has a detrimental impact on students and families, another model should be considered for 2020-21.
  • Professional Development for Specialized Services Staff in Preschool Education- This professional development should aim to ensure these staff properly understand the early childhood system and are able to create developmentally appropriate IEPs.   Specialized Services staff who are new to Pre-K should be provided with training on the EPK and UPK curricula to help create the least restrictive, highly integrated experience for the child.
  • Consider Creative Approaches for Developmental Services – Even with the County’s proposed 15% increase in reimbursement rates for PSE services, young children with developmental delays or disabilities will likely continue to wait for needed therapies and instruction.  The delays are due to a shortage of providers, who are leaving the PSE field in order to take higher-paying positions in K-12 education and health care settings. These delays can result in increased demand for much more costly K-12 special education placements later in a child’s life.  The Children’s Agenda recommends:
    • the District should continue to join with local elected officials, parents and advocates in pressuring state lawmakers and SED continue to increase reimbursement rates; and
    • the District should seriously consider other models such as becoming a PSE provider and hiring qualified professionals to deliver the services directly.
  • Improve Pre-K to Kindergarten Transition – Despite high quality Pre-K programs, RCSD early elementary students too often fall behind, struggling to learn to read by 3rd grade.  One cause of this dynamic is that the transition from Pre-K to K can be challenging for a young child.  To address this, the District should collaborate with the Early Childhood Development Initiative (ECDI) and other experts to develop evidence-based strategies and practices around early childhood transitions, and should ensure that the K-2 curriculum helps create a smooth transition from Pre-K to elementary grades.

Featured Report: Breaking the School-to-Prison Pipeline

How much progress has been made on school discipline and climate since the original 2014 report? What interventions and policy changes were most effective, and which need modification? What work remains unfinished?
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Expand and Deepen Restorative Practices Districtwide. Suspensions will not be permanently eliminated without a viable alternative. Building strong relationships among the school community and forms of accountability rooted in empathy (Restorative Practices) are those alternatives. Staffing for the Roc Restorative Team, who provide vital training, coaching and hands-on support, must be maintained at a minimum, and a multi-year plan should be developed to adopt and deepen restorative practices districtwide, including building level staff capacity and a Board resolution declaring RCSD a Restorative District.
Ban Suspensions for K-12. Given what we know about the damaging effects of suspensions on academics, and how important it is for a child to be reading by 3rd grade, there should be a ban on suspensions for K-2 students. Suspensions are an ineffective discipline tool, academically damaging, and developmentally inappropriate for young children during a period of rapid brain development.
Limit Long-Term Suspensions to 20 Days. Given what we know about the damaging effects of suspensions on academics, and how important it is for a child to be reading by 3rd grade, there should be a ban on suspensions for K-2 students. Suspensions are an ineffective discipline tool, academically damaging, and developmentally inappropriate for young children during a period of rapid brain development
Robust Data Sharing Agreement. The Roc3D Dashboard launched by RCSD this school year is a commendable step towards transparency. However, extensive quarterly reports should still be made public and discussed by the Board of Education and district leadership team. In addition, a robust data sharing agreement should be made with Roc the Future, so that outside experts are able to dive deeper into the data and partner with the district leadership team on strategies for improvement.
Adopt the School Climate Advisory Committee Recommendations. This report highlights a few key recommendations based on data from RCSD and interviews with members of the school community. This is not an exhaustive list. Members of the School Climate Advisory Committee have already developed an extensive list of recommendations that should be faithfully adopted.
The new code of conduct has a clearly defined discipline matrix. The matrix addresses a common concern among parents and staff that discipline is administered inconsistently. Training all staff on the new code of conduct and faithfully implementing the matrix will create consistency and provide detailed guidelines for handling common situations. Also, using the discipline matrix will reduce racial disparities in suspensions and promote alternatives to exclusionary discipline.

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Evidence-Based Strategies to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect

Child abuse and neglect constitute a threat to the health and well-being of our most vulnerable population: children.
According to the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, during fiscal year 2015, over 683,000 children were victims of abuse and neglect in the United States and 1,680 children died as a result of abuse and neglect.1 This data only encompasses Child Protective Services (CPS) reports and is likely to underreport the prevalence of abuse.

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In the News

Essay Appearing in D&C on October 13, 2018 – We’re Better Off With Raise The Age Law

On October 1, the future of our community’s teens became brighter. That was the day Monroe County began implementation of New York State’s Raise the Age law. The legislation passed in April 2017 requires that 16- and 17-year-old youth be treated as juveniles in the criminal justice system. The initial implementation is for 16-year-olds; the change will happen for 17-year-old youth beginning next October. In Monroe County over 700 youth ages 16 and 17 are arrested every year. Until October 1, some of those youth had been sent to state prison where they lived with adult inmates. Unsurprisingly, research shows that upon release, those youth were more likely than peers managed through the juvenile justice system to commit violent crimes and end up back in prison. In adult prisons, they experience violence and trauma that change their life. Youth in adult prisons are twice as likely to report being beaten by staff than children placed in youth facilities. They face the highest risk of sexual assault of all inmate populations, and they are 36 times more likely to commit suicide in an adult facility than in a juvenile facility. Raise the Age requires challenging shifts in funding and practice in large systems that touch the lives of at-risk youth, particularly law enforcement, courts, probation, and detention. However, our community will unquestionably be better off for these changes: Research shows that young people in the youth justice system are 34 percent less likely to be re-arrested for violent and other crimes than youth retained in the adult justice system. Approximately 80 percent of youth released from adult prisons reoffend, often... read more

Dinolfo’s Budget: Too Good to Be True?

County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo makes some very important investments in her 2018 budget proposal. The plan includes roughly $3 million to add 30 Child Protective Services caseworkers, restores $1.7 million for services that have been proven to reduce child abuse and neglect, and boosts child day-care funding by $1.6 million. These are the very investments that community members, children’s advocates, and County Legislature Democrats have been asking for, in some cases for several years.

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