When Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas testified before Albany lawmakers in the past, he didn’t press for an increase in funding for the school district. Instead, he stressed how the district was able to handle its budget challenges by allocating resources more efficiently.
He told lawmakers that he reduced the number of teachers, revised the way students received tutoring services to include more students at a lower cost, and reduced the district’s building space to account for a declining
But it's a new year and Vargas, staring at a $40.2 million deficit, has no choice but to rattle the tin cup.
Speaking before the New York Senate Finance Committee, Assembly Ways and Means Committee, Senate Education Committee, and the Assembly Education Committee, Vargas said yesterday that he’s grateful for the increased funding — $5.9 million — to begin expanding pre-K to full-day classes. But, he said, it's not enough.
Vargas pointed out that Rochester is the fifth poorest city in the country, and that the school district is the poorest district in the state.
Vargas used the well-worn education anthem that “poverty is not an excuse for low student achievement.” But he also told lawmakers that concentrated poverty in Rochester is a cold reality that’s growing worse.
Who knows whether Albany lawmakers will be sympathetic to Vargas's plea. But at least Vargas wasn’t alone. Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren was there, too, pressing for a re-evaluation of how financial aid to cities is allocated. Rochester seems to always get the short end of the deal.
But let’s be honest: there’s never a good time to ask for money. And for many lawmakers, Vargas’s request will be weighed against providing more support to charter schools. Republicans and many Democrats, too, are not overly aligned with teachers unions. Many would rather support vouchers and merit pay for high-performing teachers than help an upstate superintendent.
But this may also have been the best time for Vargas to take a stand. Parents are not impressed with the state’s rocky roll out of the Common Core curriculum. And Education Commissioner John King’s public meetings have been packed with parents, teachers, and students angry over standardized testing, among other issues. Their discontent has bubbled up to lawmakers, some of whom have had their own public meetings. These lawmakers may decide that more help for superintendents like Vargas couldn’t hurt.