Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Vargas wants to bus more city students

Posted By on Wed, May 22, 2013 at 9:36 AM

Rochester school district officials have asked the State Education Department for permission to change the district's transportation policy guidelines. Superintendent Bolgen Vargas says he wants to provide elementary students who live a half mile or more from their school with bus transportation. The current policy limits transportation to students who live a mile-and-a-half or more from their school, because that's what the state will reimburse. The district would cover the cost of the additional busing.

The district has been trying for several years to change the policy without exploding what is already one of its bigest fixed expenses. The district spends about $60 million annually on busing.

But Vargas went to Albany prepared to convince state officials that providing more busing is critical for an urban district like Rochester. First, Vargas says, attendance, which is already a huge problem in city schools, becomes even worse during the winter months, according to the district’s records.

Most parents in working poor households are not able to easily fill in when their children miss the bus, Vargas says.

“Transportation is an issue for many of the district’s families,” Vargas says. "Many parents don’t have a car or they don’t work at a job where they can adjust their schedules easily."

And third, providing more elementary students with transportation would encourage many families to choose their neighborhood school, Vargas says. Some parents don't pick their neighborhood school because they don't want their children walking through sketchy neighborhoods.

More busing will also be needed to accommodate longer school days, Vargas says.

District officials say they are confident the state will allow them to adjust the policy, and they expect to hear a response to their request by mid June.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

RCSD: Longer days for an out-of-school culture?

Posted By on Tue, May 21, 2013 at 11:48 AM

More than a year ago, Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas launched a major campaign to improve abysmally low student attendance in the city school district. Now teachers are in the hot seat. Vargas has sent an email to teachers saying that 730 of them were absent last Friday, and he he's concerned that teacher absenteeism is on the rise.

Vargas’s email is creating waves. Critics of the district wasted no time sending out their own sharp assessments of the situation. Parent and charter school advocate Carrie Remis issued a statement seeking an examination of teacher contracts, which provide teachers with “considerable time out of the classroom.” And she recommends including attendance as part of a teacher’s evaluation.

Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski sent his own email to teachers to clarify that many teachers were not in their classrooms because they had been reassigned to administer and score tests. Others were on field trips or in professional development classes, all legitimate reasons, Urbanski wrote. The other absences were not due to playing hooky, as some have suggested, but the result of sickness, family emergencies, and scheduled personal days, according to Urbanski.

While it may be true that teacher absenteeism can adversely impact student learning as a report by the liberal think tank Center for American Progress suggests, there’s more here than meets the eye.

Continue reading »

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Dems protest funding cut, Republicans pass it

Posted By on Tue, May 21, 2013 at 10:27 AM

Last night, a committee of the Monroe County Legislature passed legislation to cut funding for the Democratic office and increase it for the Republican office. The legislation now goes to the full Legislature for a vote. But it will almost certainly pass, since the GOP holds a 19 to 10 majority in the body.

Predictably, the legislation passed along party lines in committee, with the three Republican members voting for it and the two Democratic members voting against.

During last night's meeting, Republican Majority Leader Steve Tucciarello reiterated his reasons for introducing the legislation. He says the impetus was the November special election where Republican Joe Carbone unseated incumbent Democrat Stephanie Aldersley.

The funding for each party's office was set based on seats held after the post-redistricting elections in 2011. Tucciarello said the funding should be reallocated each January, just in case the Legislature's makeup changes. And that's what his legislation would do. (Tucciarello doesn't sit on the Agenda/Charter committee, which was considering the legislation, but was asked by the committee chair to speak to it. That's a common practice in all of the Legislature's committees.)

"The current, outdated practice thwarts the will of the electorate," Tucciarello said.

Continue reading »

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Confirmed: Spider-Man crew member beaten, robbed while in Rochester

Posted By on Tue, May 21, 2013 at 10:12 AM

I told you a week or so ago that the grapevine was reporting an incident involving a member of the Spider-Man film crew, which was shooting scenes for the franchise's next installment a few weeks ago in downtown Rochester. Now, the Rochester Police Department has confirmed the buzz.

According to a police spokesperson, a 26-year-old member of the film crew was assaulted and robbed on Linden Street by more than one suspect. The incident happened around 9:20 p.m. on April 30, and the unknown suspects got away with the victim's iPhone and money clip containing cash and credit cards, the RPD says.

According to the police, the male victim was walking on Linden when he was struck from behind, knocked to the ground, and assaulted. The suspects fled through the yards on Linden Street, the RPD says.

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Monday, May 20, 2013

WEEK AHEAD: County Lej debates funding cut for Democrats

Posted By on Mon, May 20, 2013 at 9:46 AM

A Monroe County Legislature committee will debate tonight Republican-sponsored legislation to cut funding for the Lej’s Democratic office.

The Agenda-Charter Committee, which meets at 6 p.m., will probably vote on the legislation. The committee meets in the Legislature Chambers in the County Office Building, 39 West Main Street.

Republican Majority Leader Steve Tucciarello introduced the legislation, which Democrats say amounts to a 10 percent cut in their office’s funding. During a press conference last week, Democratic leaders said the cut would take $16,000 out of their $170,000 budget. They said they’d have to talk about how to address the funding loss.

Under the legislation, the money would shift to the Republican office’s budget. In a statement, Tucciarello said that he introduced the legislation because Republicans gained a seat in the last election, so the funding shirt reflects the will of the voters. Republicans hold a 19 to 10 majority in the Legislature.

Democrats say the proposed cut is retaliation for speaking up on several different issues, including problems with the leadership at Monroe Community Hospital.

Tucciarello’s proposed legislation was one of several issues that flared up between Legislature Republicans and Democrats last week. Jeremy Moule

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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Report notes changes in Lake Ontario, other Great Lakes

Posted By on Sat, May 18, 2013 at 11:00 AM

Warmer surface water temperatures and declining winter ice cover suggest that climate change is affecting the Great Lakes, including Lake Ontario, says a report released this week by the International Joint Commission.

The report evaluates 16 indicators of the Great Lakes' health and water quality. And for the most part, the measurements are trending in a good direction. The presence of most toxic chemicals is down, beach closings have remained level, and populations of some native species, such as lake sturgeon, have begun to recover. But other problems, such as invasive species and nutrient pollution, still pose challenges in some parts of the Great Lakes, the report says.

Climate change, though important, is just one part of the picture. And it isn't affecting all lakes equally. For example, Lake Superior, the largest and coldest of the Great Lakes, is warming more than the other lakes, the report says. For all of the lakes, the average surface water temperatures increased by .05 to .06 degrees Celsius between 1985 and 2009, it says.

All of the lakes have experienced a decline in winter ice cover, but Lake Ontario's loss has been the steepest, the report says. Between 1973 and 2010, the lake's ice cover declined by 88 percent, it says.

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Clash between Legislature Dems, GOP continues

Posted By on Thu, May 16, 2013 at 4:20 PM

[UPDATED 6 p.m.] Legislature Republicans sent out this statement by Majority Leader Steve Tucciarello:

"The Republican Majority is honored that the voters in the last election chose to increase the size of our caucus," says the statement. "The size of each legislative office budget should be a direct reflection of each caucus’s representation in the overall legislature. The current outdated practice thwarts the intent of the electorate and this proposal honors the will of the voter."

In November, Democrats lost a seat in the Legislature when Joe Carbone defeated Stephanie Aldersley — the incumbent — in a special election.

Original post: The relationship between Republicans and Democrats in the Monroe County Legislature was strained before, but now the two sides are engaged in straight-up partisan warfare.

Carrie Andrews

At the moment, the Republican majority is on the offensive, which turned Tuesday night’s Legislature meeting into a skirmish. And the GOP has now proposed legislation to cut funding for the Democratic office by 10 percent.

The cut would take $16,000 out of the Dems’ approximately $170,000 budget. The caucus would be forced to make some sort of cut to cover the funding loss, Democratic leader Carrie Andrews said during a press conference this afternoon.

“This is an unprecedented attack on the minority office,” she said.

Andrews and several other legislators said that the proposed funding cut, which is likely to pass since Republicans have a 19 to 10 majority in the Legislature, is retaliation. They said they're being targeted because they called for former Monroe Community Hospital director Todd Spring's resignation after a state report said Spring had mistreated a patient, and because they called for the reactivation of the hospital’s defunct oversight board. They said they’re also being punished for criticizing authority appointments. (Spring was fired, and the oversight board is starting up again.)

Democrats have also held up borrowing on a road project and a bridge construction project. They say they're doing it to make the point that their proposals deserve to be heard but are routinely stifled by Legislature Republicans.

A staffer at the Republican legislators’ office said caucus leaders would issue a statement in response to the Democrats.

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Spider-Man crew member robbed in Rochester?

Posted By on Thu, May 16, 2013 at 3:14 PM

Seriously, what good is having Spider-Man around if he can’t stop a common street mugging?

According to the minutes of the May 13 NBN Sector 6 meeting — and confirmed by someone who was at the meeting — a member of the Spider-Man film crew was the victim of an alleged street robbery while the crew was shooting recently in downtown Rochester.

I asked the police about the incident. Rochester Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Justin Collins said he’s looking into it.

NBN Sector 6 is a group of business and neighborhood leaders in southeast Rochester that focuses on planning and collaboration among neighborhoods, businesses, and government. Sector 6 includes the South Wedge, Highland Park, Lilac, Swillburg, Upper Mt. Hope, and Azalea neighborhoods.

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Vargas foresees a smaller Rochester school district

Posted By on Wed, May 15, 2013 at 5:10 PM

It’s difficult to create stability in a system whirling from change, but that's where the Rochester school district is today. Historically speaking, the district is facing an unprecedented drop in student enrollment, says Superintendent Bolgen Vargas. The main reason: charter schools. President Obama's education policy — Race to the Top — lifted the cap on charter schools in New York State.

Bolgen Vargas.

More than 8,000 students have left the district over the last decade, and Vargas is projecting the departure of another 4,000 students over the next three to four years.

“We will have as many as seven new charter schools by then,” Vargas says. “And some of the existing schools will be enrolling more students as they add grades.”

The loss of students will have a serious impact on the massive overhaul of district buildings known as the schools modernization program. Much of the estimated $1.2 billion project is already under way, but a shrinking enrollment will require revisions to the latest set of plans, Vargas said during an interview yesterday.

A declining student population will also impact teachers and non-teaching staff. The coming year's budget greatly reduces, by attrition, the district's work force. But attrition causes a different type of staffing problem, often leaving a vacuum where important skills are needed.

Continue reading »

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Tiresome antics at the County Legislature

Posted By on Wed, May 15, 2013 at 4:56 PM

This post has been updated to better differentiate between Democratic Legislators John Lightfoot and Willie Joe Lightfoot.

We have complained for years about the bickering, partisanship, and posturing that takes place regularly in the Monroe County Legislature. But last night surprised even us — a new, embarrassing low. Picture a kindergarten class with mostly mean kids.

Even explaining what happened during the rancorous parts of the Legislature meeting is not a simple task. Barbs were traded, one Democratic legislator was stripped of his membership on two boards, and a piece of pending Democratic legislation was suddenly brought up and passed, and then hijacked by the Republican majority.

There is no single point where the meeting turned. The acrimony unfolded incrementally and drew in several issues that have churned in the Legislature, some for years.

Continue reading »

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