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Rochester (N.Y.) district sues city over referendum that seeks to dissolve school board

July 26, 2019
School board contends that the planned November ballot question is illegal.

The Rochester (N.Y.) City School Board has voted to sue the city to block a city referendum aiming to dissolve the school board.

The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reports that the district contends the city's planned ballot question is illegal.

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren called the district's action "shameful" and a "Hail Mary play."

The district asserts that planned November ballot question is an "advisory referendum" — essentially a poll question and therefore impermissible under state law.

The referendum would technically ask voters to approve removing a section of the City Charter regarding "commissioners of education" altogether. The city argues that and related changes proposed to the charter makes the referendum legal, and allow the city to put it on the ballot.

In her message to the city council before it voted in June, Warren said the purpose of the referendum was to ask residents "if removal of the (school board) ... to allow the state Commissioner of Education to institute necessary processes and procedures would provide a better educational outcome for our city students."

That removal would require an act of the state Legislature, which thus far has shown little appetite to do so. 

The district is seeking a court order barring the city from using taxpayer money on matters related to the referendum.

Board member Natalie Sheppard said the referendum push was "just drama" that distracts from the work the board is doing to improve the school district.

"Nobody is going to be, or should be, fighting harder for high quality education than a community-elected board," Sheppard said. "With the recent attack on our ability to strengthen our public education system … we’re all standing as one body around these efforts."

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