With the Rochester, N.Y., school district facing an $8.5-million deficit for the current school year, the local teachers’ union has mounted an assault against the district’s bureaucracy, urging the school board to “chop from the top” to balance its budget.
In a full-page advertisement in the Jan. 12 issue of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the union published the titles and salaries of more than 300 administrative positions.
“No wonder they have a budget problem,” declares the advertisement, which claims that the Rochester district has one administrator for every eight teachers and spends proportionately more on its central office than the public school systems in New York City, Buffalo, Syracuse, or Albany.
Adam Urbanski, the president of the Rochester Teachers Association, said the union’s representative assembly approved spending about $8,000 for the advertisement as part of a campaign to stave off budget cuts that would affect the district’s 2,600 teachers and 33,000 students.
“The growth of the bureaucracy in the administration in our district has been irrepressible,” Mr. Urbanski said.
To close part of the budget gap, Superintendent of Schools Manuel Rivera last week proposed cutting $1.5 million from central management and nearly $1 million from schools and academic programs.
But balancing the $288-million budget this year likely will mean “drastic” cuts in school programs, Mr. Rivera said, without additional financial help from the state or the city of Rochester.
The superintendent, who began his job on Jan. 13, also has asked the district’s unions to consider furloughs or wage concessions.
“There’s no question that we can make reductions in central management and realize greater efficiencies, such as consolidating positions,” Mr. Rivera said. “But it’s ludicrous to assume that we can make major reductions to the point of dealing with this deficit.”
“It’s just not going to happen,” he said, “unless we want to start shutting down transportation and purchasing and having schools do their own billing and other essential services.”
The superintendent said his proposed reductions would result in 50 people losing their jobs, including 16 central-office administrators.
Administrators facing layoffs have the right to “dump” less senior employees, which likely would result in the loss of low-level clerical jobs. Such a reorganization would not affect teaching positions. Some administrators also would be transferred to schools under the superintendent’s proposal, which the school board was to consider by Jan. 23.
In addition, Mr. Rivera called for the creation of a blue-ribbon task force of educators, business representatives, and human-resource professionals to examine the organization of the district’s central office.
Mr. Urbanski said he was “thoroughly disappointed” with the superintendent’s budget proposal.
“It is long on rhetoric about eliminating excessive layers of administration and bureaucracy and very short on action,” the union president said, adding that he had informed Mr. Rivera that the union would not discuss salary give-backs or furlough days “unless and until” the district’s bureaucracy is significantly reduced.
Mr. Urbanski noted that teachers’ unions and school administrators across the country have argued over how to allocate scarce educational dollars.
“We are not likely to get substantial increases in funding for education in the near future,” he said. “The alternative is that we must resign ourselves to redirecting the existing money” toward programs that benefit students.
In fact, Mr. Urbanski said, how successful school districts are in convincing the public that tax dollars are being spent closest to students may eventually determine whether they are allocated more money.
“More often than not,” Mr. Urbanski said, “more money for education is indeed throwing good money after bad.”
Past Cuts Cited
Mr. Rivera and Richard Stear, the president of the Association of Supervisors and Administrators of Rochester, which represents some school administrators, both contended that the school district’s bureaucracy has been reduced by 20 percent in recent years.
“What we really need from Adam Urbanski is less gamesmanship and more leadership,” Mr. Stear said, noting that the published list of administrative positions included school principals.
“Do they really mean to suggest that we need to chop principals?” Mr. Stear asked.
Mr. Urbanski said he was most interested not in seeing jobs eliminated, but in “redirecting” resources to support students.
“What they do,” he said, “is as important to me as how many there are.”
In that respect, despite the union’s tough stance, Mr. Urbanski and the district may not be far apart in their thinking.
Both Michael Fernandez, a school-board member, and Catherine Spoto, the president of the board, expressed interest last week in providing more direct support to the city’s schools.
Under the district’s ambitious reform program, decision-making has been pushed from the central office to councils in each school.
One goal of the restructuring effort was to “decentralize and to restructure the central office in ways to provide better services and support to schools,” Ms. Spoto said, “and to evaluate the performance of the people in the central office based upon how well those goals were met.”
“That has not been done,” she said. “This may indeed provide the incentive for us to take those difficult next steps.”
A version of this article appeared in the January 22, 1992 edition of Education Week as Cut Administrators, Rochester Teachers Urge Board