Last week, 19 area college presidents, including UR President Joel Seligman, endorsed Rochester Mayor Robert Duffy’s plan for mayoral control of the Rochester City School District. The presidents cited Rochester’s perpetually low graduation rates as a call to action to improve schools.

We understand Seligman’s desire to take action, because a school district that graduates half of its students is a huge liability to the city’s future. The concept of school reform is a noble cause and Duffy has good intentions. However, we are concerned that the terms of the mayoral control debate are overlooking a much larger issue, poverty, that plays a significant role in the limitations of a school system.

The keys to success for any child in school lie far beyond the walls of their classrooms. The lack of educational resources (computers, books) at home leads to poor performance in the class; children hungry for knowledge are unable to capitalize on their enthusiasm to learn. Additionally, there is a high correlation between family income and education success students from financially secure families perform better in school than students from poorer families. All of these symptoms are fundamental issues of poverty, and its prevalence in Rochester is undermining the success of its students.

Some of these issues are workable. For example, community centers have been built alongside schools, giving students a controlled outlet to gain helpful knowledge at the end of the day. More community centers attached to schools would be a great start to channeling the enthusiasm of our youth.

There is at least one positive aspect of this debate. As evidenced at the teach-in a few weeks ago, many in the community, who are strong advocates that poverty is the rate-limiting factor in school success, are outraged at this proposal. We hope this community passion will give newfound life to the fight against poverty that plagues our city. The issue of mayoral control does not account for this fundamental question of poverty, and until it does, the Rochester City School District will remain in the same perpetual cycle of failure, regardless of who runs it.

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