Earlier this month, the Rush-Henrietta Central School District approved a slight expansion of its participation in the Urban-Suburban program. Starting in 2023, it will take 10 students per year instead of five, and will begin to take students entering kindergarten at Crane Elementary School rather than in seventh grade.
In my book I recommended an expansion of Urban-Suburban — but only under a more fair arrangement than currently prevails in Rush-Henrietta and other districts. That unfairness is evident in R-H’s memo regarding the changes:
- “Student enrollment in the program will not create a burden on district staff or resources, nor result in any additional cost.” Translation: no students with disabilities or English language learners. The notion of an additional “burden” can be interpreted as broadly as necessary to eject students at any time.
- “It was agreed upon at the onset that transportation was the responsibility of the Rochester City School District.” Translation: no supplemental buses or other help will be provided to ensure the U-S students have the same access to after-school activities and other extracurriculars as resident students.
- “The Business Office will continue to monitor the transfer of state aid to Rush-Henrietta, the amount of which is determined by the district’s state aid ratio and the number of Urban-Suburban students the District enrolls.” Translation: R-H, like other participating districts, turns a substantial profit on each Rochester student it welcomes. More students means more extra state funding.
- “Crane principal reviews applications of students at the K level interested in attending R-H, and holds interviews with the families of students selected for potential enrollment. Principal selects which students to enroll….” Translation: This is the mechanism through which R-H and other districts ensure they don’t accidentally enroll students who might “create a burden.”
When it first adopted the program in 2016, Rush-Henrietta was unusually frank about its student screening process. In a FAQ document it distributed to residents, the district said there was no need to worry that students might “bring ‘city issues’ into the schools,” because they could be immediately expelled “without the level of due process (such as superintendent’s hearings) that is required to suspend or expel resident students.”
It continued: “Generally, students who are enrolled in more costly special programs are not enrolled in Urban-Suburban. … Urban-Suburban applicants tend to be higher achievers, have stronger family support systems and few special learning needs.”
(As an aside, the phrase “city issues” recalls a 2015 incident in which Henrietta Town Supervisor Jack Moore was recorded saying: “You don’t know about cousins in the city? We get all kinds of them, they bus them out here.”)
None of the changes in Rush-Henrietta are out of step with other participating districts. Collectively, those comparatively well-off districts will continue to cull hundreds of the easiest-to-educate students from Rochester, burnishing their own statistics while leaving behind an urban student body with proportionately more students with disabilities, English language learners and homeless students.
Any school board could decide tomorrow to create more equitable rules for its own participation. The program office at BOCES could encourage it, as could the Monroe County School Boards Association or the council of local superintendents. RCSD could end its further participation unless the terms are changed. Those would be big changes but are well within the authority of just a handful of elected or appointed officials. If enacted, they would represent at last a pledge not to continue dodging the “burden” of addressing a segregated school system, but rather accepting a measure of responsibility to work toward a more just community.