Friday, August 30, 2013

Cuomo says failing schools need to be closed

Posted By on Fri, Aug 30, 2013 at 3:41 PM

Governor Andrew Cuomo, speaking recently in a Buffalo suburb, said that "there has to be a death penalty for failing schools, so to speak," according to an article in the Buffalo News. He was referring to closing low performing schools.

The comment, which echoes what State Education Commissioner John King said earlier this month, triggered a heated response from Samuel Radford, president of the city's parent council, and Philip Runmore, head of Buffalo's teachers union.

I'm betting you can easily guess who said what based on similar exchanges made by school and labor officials here in Rochester. Radford praised the governor and said that parents support him, and of course, rhetorically speaking they probably do. But wait until the schools start closing.

And Runmore criticized the governor, saying that Buffalo's deeply entrenched poverty was to blame. 

Cuomo's list of options is also interesting. Schools should be given a short time to improve, he says, and then something dramatic has to occur: state takeover of the schools, mayoral control, or a charter takeover. He said that Albany can't continue to allow as many as three-quarters of Buffalo's schools to continue failing.

The governor lumped the Rochester school district in with failing school districts around the state that need immediate improvement.  

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Officials will meet on Medley Centre issues

Posted By on Fri, Aug 30, 2013 at 12:43 PM

Earlier this year, Medley Centre's owner missed an investment deadline required in a tax incentive agreement. - FILE PHOTO
  • Earlier this year, Medley Centre's owner missed an investment deadline required in a tax incentive agreement.
Next Friday, Medley Centre owner and developer Scott Congel will be in a room with representatives of the Monroe County Industrial Development Agency, the Town of Irondequoit, and the East Irondequoit School District. On the agenda: Congel's failure to meet the most recent milestone in a tax incentive agreement.

Congel requested the meeting, says Michael Townsend, COMIDA's attorney. Townsend says that before COMIDA officials would meet with him, Congel had to meet three preconditions: he had to mow the grass around the mall, he had to fill in the potholes in the property's parking lots, and he had to secure contracts to demolish three structures on outlying parcels. He's complied with two out of three, Townsend says. COMIDA officials are still waiting on paperwork for the demolitions.

In April, Congel was supposed to submit proof that he's invested $165 million or more into redeveloping the dead mall. But he has not done so, and Irondequoit-area officials say that it's highly unlikely he met the requirement. So right now, Congel is in default on the PILOT, though none of the three government bodies involved have made moves to sever the agreement.

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Rochester land bank board gets down to business

Posted By on Fri, Aug 30, 2013 at 11:39 AM

The board of the new Rochester Land Bank Corporation met for the first time yesterday and, as its first significant undertaking, it'll apply for funding from the state Attorney General's Office.

Earlier this month, the AG's Office announced plans to take a $20 million chunk from New York's share of a large national mortgage fraud settlement and make it available to the state's eight land banks. The organizations have to apply for the funding, which the office plans to award on a competitive basis. The land banks face a September 20 application deadline. (The Rochester Land Bank Corporation board plans to meet at 4 p.m. on September 17 to make sure it has an application that's ready for submission.)

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Hodgins aims for city school board as a Republican

Posted By on Fri, Aug 30, 2013 at 10:47 AM

Mia Hodgins stood on Lake Avenue in front of Charlotte High School earlier this week to talk about running for one of three available seats on the Rochester school board. 

Hodgins is a Republican at a time when the city’s electoral history heavily favors Democrats — so much so that it’s often not feasible for a Republican challenger to make the effort.

But Hodgins says that party affiliation isn't as important as ideas. She has a 10-point plan to improve student achievement that aligns neatly with some of Superintendent Bolgen Vargas’s plans: increasing attendance; expanding offerings in art, music, and sports; and directing resources toward improving reading proficiency.

Hodgins is assistant director of alumni relations at RIT. She was a school board candidate two years ago when she ran as a Democrat. Though she was ambitious, she was a little under-prepared. Since then, she says she has studied the district’s problems, and she can speak with clarity about possible solutions.

I’m not sure running as a Republican in the city is a winning strategy, but Hodgins deserves credit for daring to color outside the lines in order to stay in the public’s eye. And while local Republicans probably don’t see an opening or weakness in the Democratic candidates for school board, the party leaders obviously see potential in Hodgins.

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Warren gets personal in TV debate

Posted By on Fri, Aug 30, 2013 at 9:57 AM

This is a corrected version of this blog. 

Locally produced TV often has an unintended comedic element, and it was a bit strange to see Rochester mayoral hopefuls Tom Richards and Lovely Warren sitting side by side at News 8’s anchor desk last night. Mostly because the pair made a credible News team! duo.

The 30-minute debate covered familiar ground. Richards, the incumbent, spoke of a city in transformation, while Warren said that Rochester is already transformed, with some people benefiting and others losing out – depending on which part of the city you live in.

Richards talked up the construction projects happening around the city, including projects and investment in the neighborhoods. He said that Rochester has more minorities working in construction jobs than any other city in the state.

“Results count,” he said. “And results are happening.”

Warren, who is president of City Council, talked about the need to deal with what she called the city’s skill-set deficiency, so that Rochester residents are prepared for the jobs that are available.

The pair also debated education, intermunicipal agreements, and crime. Responding to a question from debate co-moderator Rachel Barnhart, Richards said that Rochester Police Chief James Sheppard is doing a good job and that the city should keep him. Warren didn’t address Sheppard’s fate in her response.

Richards and Warren were also asked about keeping a performing arts center downtown. Richards said he’d like to, but the city can’t afford it. The last estimate had a prospective center losing $4 million to $5 million a year, he said. Warren said that she supports having a performing arts center downtown, but she didn’t address finances.

The debate lacked sparks right up until the closing statements, when Warren brought up Richards’ departure from RG&E. Richards received a generous severance package, Warren said, while many employees lost their jobs.

It was a sharp sting that Warren saved until the end, when Richards wouldn’t get a chance for rebuttal. It was also the most personal this campaign has gotten thus far.

Richards has said previously that he was pushed out after the merger and that the $10 million he received in severance was mostly in stock options. In the D and C this morning, Richards says that he was forced out of the company because he wouldn’t lower the sale price. Doing so could’ve hurt stock prices, he said, and employees’ retirement plans.

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

About that video

Posted By on Thu, Aug 29, 2013 at 2:47 PM

The police chief may be waiting on the findings of the internal review, but many of the thousands of people who’ve already viewed the arrest video of Romengeno and Brenda Hardaway on YouTube have already made up their minds, and it’s pretty much what you’d think.

The police are either jackbooted, racist thugs beating up on a pregnant woman, or the Hardaways are overweight welfare spongers who scream racism as naturally as breathing.

For what it’s worth, I spoke to John Klofas, a criminal justice professor at RIT, about a different topic recently, and he brought up how police oversight is being democratized by technology. The ACLU has even released an app that lets you surreptitiously record your police encounter and upload it to the ACLU for review.

What does it all mean? Maybe the internal review will find that Officer Lucas Krull acted according to police procedure when he struck Brenda Hardaway in the back of the head. Maybe this is how the police have always operated, and we’re just finding out about it now because of the proliferation of cell-phone cameras.

If the investigation does clear Krull, I think we need to ask if this is how we want our city policed. Do we need to insist that police be specially trained to deal with pregnant women, if that isn’t happening already?

And what is our role, as media, as more of these types of videos surface – as they surely will? Do we throw up a link to the video because we know it will generate page views – without context, without explanation – and consider our job done?

County charter committee will meet again

Posted By on Thu, Aug 29, 2013 at 12:00 PM

Monroe County's Charter Review Committee had a couple of basic items on its agenda today: some time for public comments, and an update from its chairman on the research that committee members have been doing.

But nobody showed up to speak. And several committee members said that they are still reviewing their assigned topics, asking questions, and collecting information. During the committee's June meeting, committee members were each assigned specific sections of the county charter and administrative law to review and make recommendations on.

Today's meeting lasted less than half an hour.

The only real discussion centered on getting public input, which all members who spoke said that they wanted. The committee's chair, Gates Town Attorney John DiCaro, said that he reached out to about 30 organizations to solicit comments. A press release sent out yesterday by the Republican caucus said that those organizations included the Monroe County Bar Association, Rochester Business Alliance, Monroe County Sheriff’s Police Benevolent Association, and UNICON. DiCaro said that the committee should have another public input session "down the road."

Deputy County Executive Dan DeLaus said that that the committee might get a better response by holding an evening meeting. He also said that a lot of people are likely out of town this week, because of the Labor Day holiday.

Earlier in the week, Democratic County Legislator John Lightfoot sent a letter to Legislature President Jeff Adair — both serve on the committee — asking that all future meetings be scheduled during today's meeting. Lightfoot wrote that a clear schedule going forward would give the public a better opportunity to comment.

As DiCaro concluded the meeting, he said he'd be in touch with the committee members to determine how to best proceed with scheduling a September meeting.

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WXXI's Bob Smith steps down

Posted By on Thu, Aug 29, 2013 at 10:54 AM

Regular listeners of WXXI radio during the noon to 2 p.m. time slot have surely noticed the absence of Bob Smith, the longtime host and producer of "1370 Connection." 
  • Bob Smith.

WXXI ann ounced earlier today that Smith suffered a stroke in April and that he is undergoing rehabilitation. Smith has stepped down from the talk show.

Smith is an institution in Rochester media. He hosted 1370 Connection for 25 years, interviewing many regional and state political leaders. One of the remarkable qualities of his hosting talents is his ability to engage the community in respectful conversation about controversial topics. There's no doubt that listeners learned something from him and his many guests.     

But Smith covered far more than politics; he also delved into home repair, antiques, music, and history. 

WXXI is conducting a national search for a new host for 1370 Connection, according to a written statement. And WXXI plans a special two-hour program dedicated to Smith's work for mid-October. 

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Protesters reject Commissioner King's reforms

Posted By on Thu, Aug 29, 2013 at 10:17 AM

About 60 people carrying signs with slogans like "Keep Politics Away From Our Kids" and "Life Is Not a Test" protested outside School of the Arts yesterday. The protesters, most being teachers and parents of students in Rochester city schools, were rallying to send a message to State Education Commissioner John King, who was in Rochester.
About 60 people carrying signs with slogans like "Keep Politics Away From Our Kids" and "Life Is Not a Test" protested outside School of the Arts yesterday. - PHOTO BY MARK CHAMBERLIN
  • About 60 people carrying signs with slogans like "Keep Politics Away From Our Kids" and "Life Is Not a Test" protested outside School of the Arts yesterday.

Much of the protesters' concerns are about the statewide launch of a rigorous new curriculum called Common Core. High-stakes testing has been an issue since former President George W. Bush passed No Child Left Behind. 

But the Common Core is even more reliant on testing, many teachers at the protest said, and they said that the testing began before teachers were fully trained on the new curriculum. The results of the most recent state exams, which showed a dramatic drop in reading and math proficiency in districts across the state, alarmed many parents and educators.

The tests showed that only 31 percent of students statewide in grades 3 through 8 met or exceeded  the new math standards, and just 55 percent are proficient in English and reading. The Rochester school district ranked the lowest with 5.4 percent of students proficient in English and reading and 5 percent in math.

Many parents, including parents in Rochester, did not allow their children to take the tests and some of the protesters vowed yesterday that they would continue to do so. 

King has tried to calm anxieties about the test results, saying that students, parents, and teachers will eventually adjust to the higher standards, which, he says, are necessary for US students and workers to be competitive in a global economy.

King has also said that the most recent test results will not be used against teachers on their professional evaluations. 

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

School district, City Hall step up truancy reduction efforts

Posted By on Wed, Aug 28, 2013 at 1:02 PM

Mayor Tom Richards, Superintendent Bolgen Vargas, and United Way President Peter Carpino at a press conference this morning to address truancy in the city school district. - PHOTO BY TIM LOUIS MACALUSO
  • Mayor Tom Richards, Superintendent Bolgen Vargas, and United Way President Peter Carpino at a press conference this morning to address truancy in the city school district.
Many Rochesterians strongly supported mayoral control. They didn’t get it, but in an odd turn of events, they may have received something better: a strong working relationship between City Hall and the city school district. That point couldn’t have been clearer at a press conference earlier today.

Vargas, flanked by Mayor Tom Richards and United Way President Peter Carpino, discussed plans to intensify efforts to reduce truancy and increase attendance in all city schools again this year.

Though the program will be districtwide, special attention will be given to Schools 4, 8, 17, 22, 36, 43, 54, and 57 — which have known truancy problems. The district will continue its “truancy blitzes,” too — fanning out into city neighborhoods and knocking on doors to find truant students.

But this year, the district has enlisted the help of eight parent liaisons to help work with families to identify and resolve barriers to attendance. Another leg of the outreach effort includes drawing on support from African-American clergy and their congregations to push the message: go to school and stay in school.

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IP Expo @ Central Library, Children's Center

IP Expo @ Bausch & Lomb Public Library Building

Story Time Yoga @ Gates Public Library

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