Friday, September 28, 2012

Geva, RPO make changes to respond to financial challenge

Posted By and on Fri, Sep 28, 2012 at 12:05 PM

In a letter to patrons sent out earlier this week, Geva Theatre Center announced that it has made several operational changes to “ensure that the organization continues its progress toward financial stability and growth.” Those changes included the elimination of five full-time positions in administration, marketing, development, and production, and the institution of unpaid furloughs in the production shops between shows.

In related news, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra announced last week that it had made repertoire changes to its 2012-13 Philharmonic Series, replacing some previously scheduled works with works that are less expensive to produce, according to a press release. One work was substituted in each of eight programs, and one work was deleted entirely from a ninth. No changes were made to the remaining five programs in the classical Philharmonic series.

A full list of the changes can be found here.

At Geva, Executive Director Tom Parrish and Artistic Director Mark Cuddy said in the letter to patrons that the cutbacks were made to counter cash-flow problems and an unrestricted working capital of negative $1.3 million. The letter also said that “Geva has turned the financial corner,” and that it is “on the long climb to financial health.”

Geva’s strategic plan calls for growing and diversifying donations and ticket sales, and in an interview this week, Parrish said that the theater has already seen improvement on those fronts. Eighty percent of Geva’s revenue currently comes from ticket sales, 20 percent from donations, while the national average is a 50-50 split. By “focusing a lot on building patron loyalty,” Parrish said, donations grew by 18 percent in the past year.

“We’re trying to connect the patron and the artists together, because it’s that relationship that’s at the core of the theater,” Parrish said. “The more people give, the more they get. It’s important that donors get to see their charitable investments at work.” That means more behind-the-scenes opportunities, and more chances to hear directly from the artists and “participating in the process of making theater,” he said.

Geva has had operating deficits for many years, but last year saw a substantial improvement, Parrish said: a deficit of $229,240, compared to $704,750 from the 2010-11 season.

The improvement gave Geva positive cash flow “for the first time since 2008,” Parrish said. “We’ve gotten past the worst of it — the bottom, so to speak. Now we’re starting to rebuild.”

The job eliminations and production-department furloughs were “difficult changes,” Parrish said. “It’s unfortunate that we had to make them. But it’s right for this theater.” Both Parrish and the letter to patrons stressed that the goal was to make cuts that would not “impact the experience of audience members, donors, or community partners.”

“This is a celebratory year for us,” Parrish says, referencing Geva’s 40th anniversary, “so we wanted to make sure that the cost reductions were in areas that hopefully the patrons don’t even notice.”

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More notes on the Slaughter-Brooks poll

Posted By on Fri, Sep 28, 2012 at 10:06 AM

Yesterday, Siena Research Institute released poll results that put Democrat Louise Slaughter 10 points ahead of Republican Maggie Brooks among likely voters. Beyond the big picture, some other aspects of the results got my attention:

• While 86 percent of the surveyed Democrats said they'd vote for Slaughter, 76 percent of Republicans said they'd vote for Brooks. And 21 percent of Republicans said they'd vote for Slaughter versus 11 percent of Democrats who said they'd vote for Brooks.

• Brooks, however, did substantially better among independents, 50 percent of whom said they'd vote for her. Of the remaining independents, 39 percent said they'd vote for Slaughter and 11 percent were undecided.

• Slaughter polled better among women: 61 percent said they viewed her favorably compared to the 49 percent that viewed Brooks favorably.

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Rochester school board says there's too much testing

Posted By on Fri, Sep 28, 2012 at 9:29 AM

Last night, the Rochester school board voted 6 to 1 in favor of asking Albany lawmakers and state education officials to develop a new system to evaluate student learning. The new policy, which was largely developed by board member Mary Adams, rejects the state’s reliance on standardized testing as the main way to measure student performance.

Board members heard from more than a dozen supporters of the policy, including faculty from area colleges. They said an overemphasis on testing has a negative impact on students. Testing causes anxiety, they said, and the tests don't really reflect what a student has learned during the year. More importantly, opponents said, the culture encourages teachers to teach to the tests.

The results of the whole package are students who lack critical thinking skills and are less prepared for college or a 21st century work force, speakers said.

Board member Cynthia Elliott was the lone vote against the measure. She said the resolution does not provide policy makers in Albany with examples of assessment tools that should replace standardized testing.

The policy is largely symbolic and does not say that district officials will stop using standardized testing. But Adams described the policy as a good “first step.”

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Women's rights advocates vouch for O'Brien

Posted By on Thu, Sep 27, 2012 at 2:01 PM

Linda Stephens, president of the Rochester chapter of the National Association of Women, says she's disgusted by a set of ads that attack Democrat state Senate candidate Ted O'Brien. Stephens, along with City Council President Lovely Warren and County Legislator Carrie Andrews, pushed back against the ads during a press conference this afternoon.

The ads — one's a tv spot and the other is a direct-mail piece — say that O'Brien supported a judge who was accused of sexual harassment. The blog State of Politics, which is run by the staff of YNN's Capital Tonight program, put the ad into context in a post earlier this month. The post can be found here.

Stephens said that O'Brien has been an strong supporter of women's rights, more so than his opponent, Republican Sean Hanna. She criticized Hanna's supporters for insinuating otherwise; the ads in question were funded by outside groups and not by Hanna's campaign.

"It's a deceitful ad," Stephens said during a press conference this afternoon.

Andrews, who serves with O'Brien in the County Legislature's Democratic caucus, said he's a constant proponent of women's issues. As a legislator, he helped pass a county law that would prohibit housing discrimination against victims of domestic violence, she said. He's also advocated for the county to preserve funding for teen pregnancy prevention programs and against child care subsidy eligibility cuts. He's also supported state and federal pay equity bills, state legislation that would protect abortion rights, and federal legislation that would increase research into the environmental causes of breast cancer.

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Siena poll has Slaughter up by 10 points

Posted By on Thu, Sep 27, 2012 at 1:07 PM

The first poll in the 25th Congressional race is out, putting Democratic incumbent Louise Slaughter ahead of her Republican challenger Maggie Brooks by 10 points, 52 percent to 42 percent. The Siena Research Institute released the poll results this afternoon.

Likely voters say Slaughter is better on health care, education, and war, the poll says. Slaughter has a big lead in Rochester, while Brooks leads in Western Monroe County.

Both candidates are well-known and well-liked, and everyone expects this race to be close. Brooks has been running on her record as Monroe County executive, while trying to cast Slaughter as a tax-and-spend Washington insider. The Slaughter team has attacked Brooks for the many scandals that have occurred during her three terms leading the county. Some people are dubious of Slaughter's strategy, however, given that previous election results prove that voters don't blame Brooks for the problems with county government.

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I'm not finding comfort in the polls

Posted By on Thu, Sep 27, 2012 at 11:01 AM

The presidential polls are all over the lot right now; every time it looks as if a trend is developing, something else happens. This morning, Real Clear Politics is giving President Obama a poll average of plus 4 percent. But Rasmussen, which tracks likely voters, continues to show a much closer race - a tie, this morning.

Rasmussen does traditionally show Republicans doing better, so maybe that's why its numbers are out of line with those of other polls. But regardless, I had expected to see better numbers for Obama, given Mitt Romney's stunning comments about the attack on the Libyan consulate and the revelation of his opinion about Americans who get government benefits.

The poll numbers from the swing states have stronger numbers for Obama, but there's a problem in that. If Obama win the electoral college but loses the popular vote, or if he wins both but by razor-thin margins, he'll start his second term with a deeply divided nation and a deeply divided, and angry, Congress.

On this point, by the way, see EJ Dionne's Washington Post article, “Can This Election Settle Anything?”

"Obama's ability to govern in a second term," Dionne writes, "thus depends not simply on his own triumph but also on the decisive defeat of those who have been obstructing him. If he wins but they win, is there much chance that the obstruction will stop?"

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Focus needed on black and Latino males

Posted By on Thu, Sep 27, 2012 at 10:22 AM

The Rochester school board frequently finds itself at odds with public opinion over how much supervision superintendents need. Too much, and board members are accused of meddling and micromanaging. Too little, and the public directs its anger at the board when things go wrong.

Board member Van White says he is not willing to err on the latter. He was extremely frustrated by a recent report that says that only 9 percent of Rochester’s black males graduate in four years, the lowest rate of any urban district in the country.

The report by the Schott Foundation for Public Education, which paints an equally grim picture for Latino males, should be sounding alarm bells, White said in a phone interview yesterday. And he said he will be urging board members to direct Superintendent Bolgen Vargas to develop a short-term strategy to begin addressing the problem at tonight’s monthly board meeting.

The meeting is at the district’s central office at 131 West Broad Street, at 6:30 p.m.
“This is a state of emergency,” White said, and he is troubled by the district’s lack of responsiveness to such damaging news. Earlier this week, Superintendent Vargas said that he had not thoroughly read the Schott report (which is 50 pages long) and that its data does not match the district’s.

In a letter sent to board members, White said, “We must offer up a plan which effectively communicates our understanding that we are confronted with a crisis. Additionally, and more importantly, such a plan must more clearly define our specific programmatic priorities and the time frames we expect to carry them out.”
The Schott Report was released the same week that a US Census report showed that Rochester’s child poverty rate has risen from 11th to the 7th highest in the country. Roughly 54 percent of city children under age 18, according to the US Census, live in poverty.

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AP: Strong regulations not enough to prevent drilling problems

Posted By on Thu, Sep 27, 2012 at 9:07 AM

Earlier this week, Earthworks released a report criticizing the inspection practices of New York and other states where drilling is occurring.

But the folks at Earthworks are not the only ones examining New York's record of regulatory enforcement of gas and oil drilling. An Associated Press article published yesterday also calls the state's enforcement efforts into question.

"Annual reports and incident reports prepared by Department of Environmental Conservation staff and reviewed by The Associated Press run counter to the agency’s long-stated assertion that the types of problems reported in other states have been prevented in New York by strong regulations," says the article.

Among the incidents it cites: at a site near Allentown, crude oil was discharged into a stream leading to the Genesee River. The article also emphasizes the problems posed by idle and abandoned wells drilled well before environmental regulations were in place.

The enforcement criticisms will only become more relevant as New York officials near a decision on whether to allow high-volume hydraulic fracturing in gas-bearing shale formations. Fracking critics including environmentalists and lawmakers have questioned whether the DEC has adequate staff to effective regulate a booming natural gas industry.

The Earthworks report say that in 2010, 76 percent of the state's gas and oil wells went uninspected. And when violations were found, the fines were inadequate, it says.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Marry me, Mary, again

Posted By on Wed, Sep 26, 2012 at 3:18 PM

Want to get re-married on a bridge with a bunch of strangers? Who doesn't?

The City of Rochester invites the public to renew their marital vows from the Pont de Rennes bridge in High Falls on Friday, October 5. There will also be a reception and a group photograph.

The event is from 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., but you have to register by 6:45 p.m. City Court Judge Charles Crimi will officiate.

Information: 428-6755.

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Romney trailing

Posted By on Wed, Sep 26, 2012 at 11:51 AM

Gov. Romney sold himself as the Mr. Fix It president. He was going to right all of President Obama’s many wrongs, starting with the Affordable Care Act. Now he’s scrambling to fix his own campaign by attempting to shift attention away from his comments about 47 percent of Americans not paying income taxes and viewing themselves as victims.

But it doesn’t appear to be working. Obama is ahead of Romney in the battleground states of Ohio and Florida, according to the latest polls. And Republican senators in tight races, smelling defeat, are distancing themselves from Romney. Not a good sign.

Conservative pundits Joe Scarborough, Peggy Noonan, and Bill Kristol were extremely critical of Romney during the Sunday news talk shows. Each had a surprisingly frank take on how to revive Romney's troubled campaign: Lay out his plans for reviving the economy. Be more forceful in his delivery. Open up and be real with the American public.

Even plucky Sarah Palin weighed in, telling Romney he should go rogue. Things must be pretty bad because Ann Romney pushed back over the weekend, basically telling the conservative media to either help or shut up.

But the problem is that Romney has been listening to what all the stalwart conservatives have been telling him to say and do. And following their advice has made him so malleable that he comes off as disingenuous. And their advice doesn’t align with the views of the majority of American voters.

The former is bad for Romney, but the latter is bad for the party. It’s going to be hard for conservatives to build a future platform for a party that obstinately clings to views on women’s health, immigration reform, and tax fairness that insult and alienate half of the electorate.

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