Best Practices

Mayor William A. Johnson

"August Group" Educational Reform Committee

Rochester Mayor William A. Johnson, Jr. has been involved in the educational reform movement for more than 20 years. In 1985, as president of the Urban League of Rochester, he received national recognition when he launched the Community-wide Initiative to Improve the Quality of Education in the Rochester Public Schools. This led to a well-received report entitled "A Call to Action" which challenged the Rochester community to reform local schools and improve student performance.

Improved performance of the Rochester city schools has become a major focus of city government under Mayor Johnson. In August 1994, the Mayor, together with then- Monroe County Executive Robert King, convened the "August Group" Educational Reform Committee. This non-partisan group was comprised of eight educational experts, including the Dean of the School of Education of the University of Rochester; two New York State regents; and the president of the Rochester Industrial Management Council, among others. It was charged with developing the framework for a plan that would dramatically improve the academic achievement of students, enhance the effectiveness of school district operations, and increase public confidence in the Rochester education system. This plan was to be proposed to the Rochester community, components of which would then be involved in its further development and implementation.

This effort culminated in a comprehensive report which made recommendations to improve the Rochester schools. The report was accepted by the Mayor and County Executive and received widespread support in the community. The oversight committee, which included the August Group members and representatives of key educational constituencies, was developed to integrate the school district's reform agenda into the August Group recommendations, and to manage the implementation process.

Approximately three months into implementation, in the spring of 1995, Dr. Clifford Janey was named Superintendent of the Rochester City Schools. Extremely impressed by the level of community energy and involvement, Janey endorsed the reform initiative and joined the oversight committee. He brought the experience gained from the reform movement in the Boston Public Schools to this effort. Based upon this experience, the Mayor, Superintendent and other leaders of Rochester's reform movement agreed to reconstitute the oversight committee into "Partnership Plus" in the fall of 1995.

"Partnership Plus" builds on the August Group/oversight committee processes and is designed to bring together all elements of the community to support the school district's achievement of specific performance benchmarks. In this initiative, the city and county governments, business, higher education and United Way agencies all have specific areas of responsibility, in addition to district parents, students, and staff. Mayor Johnson serves, along with the County Executive, School Superintendent, United Way President and business and higher education leaders, on the initiative's leadership council. This targeted and comprehensive effort which has the formal involvement of several oversight committee members, is expected to make significant progress toward improving student educational performance, and will report to the community on a regular basis.

Contact: Office of the Mayor, (716) 428-7045

Legislative Reform Process

When Mayor Johnson took office in January 1994, he indicated that there was no element more important to the city's long term vitality -- both in perception and reality -- than quality schools. In one of his first acts upon taking office, Mayor Johnson froze city funding to the school district for two years. The district's budget had grown nearly 80 percent over the previous 10 years while the city's had risen only 27 percent. The result: the school budget was now more than $40 million larger than the city's. Given that less than 25 percent of city taxpayers have children in the Rochester schools, this situation was a grave concern for many residents, and Mayor Johnson's action was a welcome first step. However, longer term solutions were necessary to insure proper fiscal and administrative management of district affairs.

In the summer of 1994, Mayor Johnson and the Rochester City Council convened two days of hearings in which educational experts and concerned citizens presented testimony specifically related to district financing and governance. The goal of the hearings was to develop ideas for improving the school district's fiscal and administrative management.

More than 20 individuals testified during the hearings, presenting myriad reform ideas. Out of this testimony, and through consultation with other experts, the Mayor and City Council developed three main objectives for fiscal and administrative reform: 1) the creation of a strong superintendent, who would be responsible for all personnel, finance, and other administrative concerns, leaving the school board to focus on policy issues; 2) the establishment of line item authority for the city over the district's budget; and 3) consolidated central management services for the city and the district, especially in the areas of finance and budget, personnel and capital projects.

Because all of these objectives require changes in New York State education law, city staff has prepared proposed legislation which amends the powers and duties of the school board, Superintendent and city in the appropriate areas. The legislation now needs a sponsor and must be introduced and adopted in the State Assembly and Senate. Due to varying degrees of relevance to other cities in New York State, the aim is to have the legislation introduced as a "home rule" message, which would apply solely to Rochester.

Obviously, this type of legislation faces staunch opposition in specific segments of the community. However, due to its necessity and importance, the city administration is working diligently to form the alliances necessary to make it law. Currently, discussions are underway with members of the Rochester delegation in state government, and with local and state representatives of the teachers' union, in order to develop the necessary support.

Contact: Office of the Mayor, (716) 428-7045

"Good Grades Pay" Initiative

In his State of the City address on January 17, Mayor Johnson announced the creation of his "Good Grades Pay" Initiative. Designed in response to impending cuts in federal funding for summer jobs for youth, "Good Grades Pay" is a partnership of the city, the school district, private employers, and youth in the Rochester community.

The goal of the effort is to create 800 jobs for young people in the Rochester city schools. The City of Rochester will supply funding for 200 jobs for 14- and 15-year- old students, and also provide management of the program and job readiness training for eligible students. The business community, represented by the Rochester Chamber of Commerce, Industrial Management Council, and the Mayor's Small and Medium-sized Business Roundtable, will provide slots and funding for 600 additional jobs for 16-to-18- year-old individuals. The city school district is currently publicizing the program within its middle and high schools, and providing the initial eligibility screening for students.

The role of students demonstrates the uniqueness of the program. In announcing it, Mayor Johnson said, "Jobs are too scarce to be given away indiscriminately." Therefore, in order to qualify for these jobs, the young people have to earn them. They must demonstrate a cumulative average of "C" or better either during the 1995-96 school year, or alternatively during the final marking period. Additionally, the students must demonstrate a clean disciplinary record, thereby indicating employment worthiness.

More than 5,000 students met the initial eligibility requirements. Those students who complete the application process will then be matched, by skills and interests, to appropriate employers. However, each employer will be able to interview two to three students for every job opening, choosing the best candidate from those interviewed.

"It is important that these kids get a taste of the real world at a young age," said Mayor Johnson. "They need to know that nothing will be handed to them -- they'll have to work for everything they get. We hope that this program, in addition to providing needed jobs and an excellent work experience, will begin to drive this point home."

Mayor Johnson and business and education leaders hope that "Good Grades Pay" will become an annual program after a successful first year. In future years, Mayor Johnson plans to further develop the entrepreneurial component of the program, where students receive funding and technical support necessary to successfully start their own small business. For this year, a portion of the slots targeted to 13- and 14-year-old students will be dedicated to entrepreneurship.

Contact: Office of the Mayor, (716) 428-7045

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The United States Conference of Mayors

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