Friday, January 13, 2017

RCSD's Deane-Williams lays out priorities

Posted By on Fri, Jan 13, 2017 at 4:25 PM

It’s not just that Rochester schools Superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams is between a rock and a hard place; it's that the rock keeps getting bigger and the place keeps getting harder.

Deane-Williams’ presentation last night of the results of her months-long listening  tour rehashed some of what’s already known about city schools.  (The tour involved a barrage of surveys, interviews, and focus groups with students, teachers, administrators, and parents.)
RCSD Superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams (center) presents findings from her listening tour. - PHOTO BY KEVIN FULLER
  • PHOTO BY KEVIN FULLER
  • RCSD Superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams (center) presents findings from her listening tour.

Many city students come to school hungry and tired. Others have witnessed violence or they’ve been victims of it. Some parents don’t feel welcome and it can be a hurdle communicating with school officials.

Institutional racism continues to be a pervasive and corrosive problem for the city school district that thwarts instruction and produces a hostile school climate.

But the real takeaway last night is that the district is a dramatically uneven landscape. Some schools are doing well, partly because they have more resources. Others are not performing well partly because the funding in those schools doesn’t meet the students’ needs. Creating equity across the school district for all students is one of Deane-Williams’ central themes, and it will be her biggest challenge going forward for several reasons.

The district’s preliminary budget projections for the 2017-2018 school year show a gap of $65 million. Expenses continue to outpace revenue, and district officials do not expect a sharp increase in state funding next year. Applying for more grants may help, but grants are usually a temporary fix and a trial balloon before committing more budget money to a plan.

There are internal problems, too. Evening the playing field would most certainly require shifting at least some funds and resources away from schools that are doing well – SOTA, School 58, or School Without Walls, for example. The last superintendent who tried that unleashed a fury from parents and teachers. Maybe this time it could be done differently and with more finesse, but Deane-Williams must know that it will not be easy.

The other issue concerns school board members and their expectations. Some see expansion and exploration: giving parents more choices in the types of schools that the district offers – a military school or a SOTA II, for example – as the way forward. And while they all see equity as a goal, disrupting a SOTA, for instance, could send parents fleeing.

Given that the district doesn’t have the funds to place, let’s say, reading teachers or speech therapists in every school with students who need those services, exactly how will Deane-Williams make those difficult choices?

Still, Deane-Williams appears to be focusing her attention on some initiatives that could bring about equity while taking a different route. She wants to lift achievement in all schools by giving principals more responsibility and autonomy from central office to come up with their own individualized approaches to running their buildings. That, too, has been tried before with varying degrees of success.

The problem there is with more autonomy comes greater accountability.

And she wants to harness the power of the mountains of data the district collects on students and direct it to principals and teachers in a format that frees them up from having to find it, interpret it, and figure out how to use it. The data will already flag students who need quick intervention and provide some direction on what they need.

Much of what Deane-Williams presented will come down to implementation. Her presentation didn’t break ground with startling new revelations, nor did she offer any heady recommendations concerning closing or opening new schools. But we’ve seen those types of plans before and so have parents and board members.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Key photonics site picked

Posted By on Wed, Dec 14, 2016 at 2:50 PM

The New York State Photonics Board of Officers has chosen a site at Eastman Business Park for a major manufacturing facility.

During a meeting this morning, the board picked ON Semiconductor on Lake Avenue to host the AIM Photonics testing, assembly, and packaging facility. The company makes a variety of electronic devices, including power management systems and sensors; in 2014, it acquired Truesense, a Kodak spinoff that makes image capture sensors.

Empire State Development hired the advisory firm Newmark Grubb Knight Frank to lead the search. ON Semiconductor beat out 16 other qualifying sites, said Empire State Development CEO Howard Zemsky.

The site still needs an environmental review and the approval of ESD, according to a press release sent out this afternoon by Governor Andrew Cuomo's office.

RIT was a finalist, too, but ON Semiconductor's existing cleanroom space and its location at Eastman Business Park — a hub for various advanced manufacturing and tech companies — stood out, Zemsky said. The site can be outfitted for the TAP facility for an estimated $10 million less than what the state photonics board budgeted, he said.

AIM Photonics is a Department of Defense program and its goal is to jumpstart a domestic integrated photonics industry. Integrated photonics melds optical devices with semiconductor-based devices to reduce size and power consumption and increase performance and capability.  It's already used for biomedical sensors, imaging equipment, data server switches, and various communications systems.

AIM Photonics member companies and universities will have access to the TAP facility.  Their device designs will use silicon chips as a base, and those complete chips will be produced in Albany's foundries.  The city has a strong semiconductor industry so it makes sense for the chips to be produced there, officials have said.

But the completed chips, which are tiny and extremely sensitive, will come to Rochester's TAP facility for packaging, assembly, and testing.

State and local officials lauded the site choice.

"This is a great step forward in what we're doing here with AIM Photonics," said House Representative Louise Slaughter. "We really have made a mark on the world."

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Monday, December 12, 2016

Proposed downtown DMV's fate lies with budget vote

Posted By on Mon, Dec 12, 2016 at 1:36 PM

Monroe County is on the verge of having a downtown DMV, once again. County Clerk Adam Bello announced his plan to open an office at a press conference this morning.

First, however, the County Legislature needs to pass the 2017 county budget without removing funding that Bello's office set aside for the effort.

The Legislature meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday and will vote on the county budget then.

Bello wants to renovate lobby space in City Place, 50 West Main Street, for the DMV office. That's also where a county mobile DMV unit sets up every Monday, Tuesday, and Friday. His office would end mobile DMV services at the county parks office in Highland Park, which Bello said is inaccessible to bus users and people with disabilities. It also has 25 percent fewer customers than the City Place location, he says.

Bello's proposal calls for two additional cashiers at City Place. The full-time office would be open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily; the DMV branch offices in Henrietta, Greece, and Irondequoit have the same hours. The city mobile units are open from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., since staff have to set up and take down needed equipment each day.

"Rochesterians deserve full-time, reliable DMV services," Bello said during a press conference this morning.

The state operated a DMV office at the Sibley Building until 2003. When the state shut it down, the county rolled out the mobile DMV's as an alternative. But the arrangement has proven confusing, inconvenient, and inequitable. Users aren't always sure of where they have to go, and not everyone has Internet access to find out, Mayor Lovely Warren said during the press conference.

The mobile offices also can't perform all of the same transactions as the suburban offices do, and transportation to and from a mobile DMV can be difficult. It may take a person an hour or two to get from downtown to one of the suburban offices by bus, which makes simple DMV business an all-day affair, Warren said.

"We want a place that's accessible," Warren said.

Warren and Bello also said the office is needed because more people are living and working downtown.

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WEEK AHEAD: Events for the week of Monday, December 12

Posted By on Mon, Dec 12, 2016 at 9:55 AM

The Public Safety Committee of Rochester City Council will discuss Mayor Lovely Warren’s proposal to get rid of red-light cameras this week. Council committees meet at 4 p.m. on Thursday, December 15, in Council chambers at City Hall, 30 Church Street.

You can speak out on the red-light legislation at a specially scheduled public forum after the committee meetings. The forum is scheduled for around 5:15 p.m.

All of Council’s committees will meet that day. The Public Safety Committee usually convenes near the end.
Warren wants the red-light program to end on December 31; she says that the city’s program unfairly targets the poor. BY CHRISTINE CARRIE FIEN


Rochester schools Superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams will hold a “Kitchen Table Conversation” from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, December 15. The meeting is an opportunity to meet with the superintendent in a casual setting for updates as well as to voice concerns. The event will be held at the district’s central office, 131 West Broad Street. BY TIM LOUIS MACALUSO


The Monroe County Legislature will most likely vote on the 2017 county budget when it meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

The $1.2 billion plan keeps the county tax rate flat at $8.99 per $1,000 of assessed property value. It also boosts county spending on child care subsidies by $100,000, which is far less than what local children’s advocates and Democratic Monroe County legislators pressed for. Dems will probably introduce an amendment Tuesday night to boost the funding, and Republicans will likely block it.

Children’s advocates have recently raised concerns over an increase in county child abuse and neglect cases. Advocates want the county to automatically fill any child protective services caseworker vacancies automatically and to add CPS staff.

The Legislature meets in its chambers at the County Office Building, 39 West Main Street.


At 11:30 a.m. today (Monday, December 12), County Clerk Adam Bello will announce his proposal for a full-time downtown DMV office.

City residents are currently served by a mobile DMV office, which sets up at City Place on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays, and at the county parks office in Highland Park on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Bello wants to locate a permanent DMV office at City Place.

But a full-time DMV will require money for operations and renovations. It’s not clear whether the 2017 county budget proposal includes funding for the facility; Bello will most likely speak on that issue during his press conference. BY JEREMY MOULE


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Controversial plan for Lake Ontario approved

Posted By on Thu, Dec 8, 2016 at 4:50 PM

A bi-national agency has adopted a controversial new plan to regulate water levels in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River: 16 years after it started developing it. And one federal representative is already vowing to fight it.

The International Joint Commission announced this afternoon that it approved Plan 2014, albeit an amended version.  The plan first needed approval from the executive branches of the US and Canadian governments, which it recently received. It lays out criteria for determining how much water passes through Moses-Saunders Dam, which bridges Cornwall, Ontario, and Massena, New York, between the lake and the river.

The plan allows for more variation in Lake Ontario water levels, which scientists as well as environmental, conservation, and sportsmen's groups say is crucial to restore degraded shoreline ecosystems and habitat. Coastal wetlands in particular will benefit, since the current plan, which was adopted in 1958, led to artificially high water levels. The high levels exacerbated erosion and encouraged the overgrowth of cattails in wetlands.

"This is such a big win for our region economically and environmentally," says Jim Howe, executive director of The Nature Conservancy of Central and Western New York.

But the plan is also controversial, largely among some residents on Lake Ontario's south shore, which includes the coastal parts of Monroe, Wayne, and Orleans counties. Residents and businesses along the shore, along with their elected representatives, vocally opposed the plan. They said it would allow for water levels that are too high and that could damage their property. But many of those residents are unhappy with water levels under the existing plan, too.

Republican House Representative Chris Collins tweeted that the plan is unacceptable and in a statement he vowed to do everything in his power to stop it, including blocking funding for implementation. But fellow Republican House Representative Elise Stefanik, whose district covers much of the North Country and who is considered by many a young, rising star in the New York GOP, supports the plan.


Before the US and Canadian governments adopted Plan 2014, they modified the extreme low-level threshold for water releases from the Moses-Saunders Dam. In other words, the lowest triggering water level in the modified plan is actually higher — meaning the water's deeper — than in the original plan. That shift may have benefits for the shipping industry and recreational boaters, within minimal effect on the plan's environmental benefits, Howe says.



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Finger Lakes region gets $80.5 million for priority projects

Posted By on Thu, Dec 8, 2016 at 2:59 PM

The Finger Lakes region will get $80.5 million in state funding to support key industries, economic and community development projects, and anti-poverty programs.

The state held its annual Regional Economic Development Councils awards ceremony – sometimes called the state’s economic development Hunger Games – this afternoon. The Finger Lakes council’s plan was named a top performer, which put the region in line for about $20 million more than some other regions, including Western New York and the Southern Tier.

State and local economic development officials haven’t released a breakdown of projects that will get money or said how the money will be divided up.

The Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council’s priority projects for 2016 include a High Tech Rochester photonics venture challenge; business incubator space in Sibley Square (the former Sibley Building); agriculture and food industry facilities; the first phase of renovations at the Seneca Park Zoo; the Rochester Downtown Kitchen Incubator; and various college campus, workforce development, and business expansion projects.

The list of priority projects is toward the end of the regional council’s 2016 progress report, which is available on the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council website.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Homeland Security allegedly contacted about two Naz students

Posted By on Wed, Dec 7, 2016 at 4:35 PM

Nazareth President Daan Braveman - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • Nazareth President Daan Braveman
A member of a local church allegedly called Homeland Security after two male students, both Muslim and students at Nazareth College, attended a service and coffee hour at the church on Sunday, December 4, said Nazareth president Daan Braveman in a letter addressed to the "Campus Community."  A state police officer subsequently contacted the college to confirm that the students are enrolled, Braveman said.

The church in question is Browncroft Community Church on Browncroft Boulevard. The church's executive pastor, Sam Huey, said in a phone call this afternoon that he can't confirm Braveman's account. He said he wished that someone from Nazareth had contacted him before Braveman's letter went out.

The men, one African American and the other of Middle Eastern descent, visited the church as part of a sociology and religion course.

“They were shocked,” by the incident, says Julie Long, a spokesperson for the college.

Braveman's letter, which went out today, expresses his concern over the incident.

“I am very troubled and indeed angered that two of our students were singled out because of their religious beliefs,” he says. “This incident underscores, especially in the context of the larger environment, the importance of our work in promoting interfaith understanding and respect across lines of religious difference.”

This was the second time that the students visited the church and they said they were treated well both times.

A third, non-Muslim student also visited the church on December 4, but was not subjected to the same scrutiny.

The college’s interfaith course requires students to explore different religions and to learn more about how a diverse and pluralistic society functions, Long says.

Huey said that the incident doesn't reflect the mindset of the church.

Braveman's letter:

Dear Campus Community,

I am writing to report on an incident that greatly disturbs me. This past Sunday, two of our Muslim students visited a local church as part of the Sociology of Religion course, which requires students to attend religious services that are not of their own tradition. This was the second time the students visited the church. Our students were very well behaved and appeared to be well received at the church. Nevertheless, a church member subsequently called Homeland Security to express concern about Muslim students from Nazareth. A State Police representative contacted the College to confirm that the two individuals are in fact students. After their student status was confirmed, the police dropped the matter. A third student, who is not Muslim, also visited that church earlier in the day but was not the subject of any such report.

I am very troubled and indeed angered that two of our students were singled out because of their religious beliefs. We intend to discuss this matter with representatives of the church. In the meantime, I want to stress that Nazareth is committed to supporting our students, and I have met with the two students to reassure them of that support. This incident underscores, especially in the context of the larger environment, the importance of our work in promoting interfaith understanding and respect across lines of religious difference.




Daan Braveman, President
Nazareth College
4245 East Ave.
Rochester, New York 14618
585-389-2001

Monday, December 5, 2016

Mayor Barnhart? She's thinking about it

Posted By on Mon, Dec 5, 2016 at 2:28 PM

Rachel Barnhart - PROVIDED PHOTO
  • PROVIDED PHOTO
  • Rachel Barnhart
Former WROC journalist Rachel Barnhart is exploring a run for mayor. Barnhart confirmed the latest grist from the Flour City rumor mill via Twitter direct message today. Mayor Lovely Warren’s term is up in 2017.

“Our team is exploring it,” Barnhart said. “I’m looking for the best opportunity to serve our community. I’m a lifelong city resident and graduate of city schools and I built my career around covering issues in the city that are important to residents.”

“Our city is struggling with poverty and a lack of economic opportunity. There are problems we need to solve. Right now, they’re not being adequately addressed.”

Barnhart is a former reporter and anchor for WROC-TV8 and waged an unsuccessful primary battle for State Assembly against fellow Democrat Harry Bronson in September. She may have lost, but she posted a respectable showing, coming up short by 537 votes. With that outcome, especially for a first-time candidate, it’s no wonder that Barnhart might be encouraged to try again.

But Barnhart’s possible run must have heads spinning at the Monroe County Democratic Committee.

The party’s refusal to unite behind Warren after her primary victory in the 2013 mayor’s race exacerbated a racial split in the party that still hasn’t healed; Warren appears to be operating independently of the MCDC and the MCDC is, by many accounts, struggling.

But you have to assume that the “party” – whatever that is these days – isn’t hot on Barnhart, either, for challenging Bronson. Barnhart also took local Democrats to task after her primary loss for not speaking out against what she called sexist attacks against her during her campaign. So Barnhart may have burned some bridges there.

So what are local Dems to do? I believe they’d choose Warren. (Although Warren hasn’t confirmed she’s running again.) It’s hard to believe the Dems would want to further damage the party by choosing, once again, not to back Warren – this time, as the sitting mayor.

And what happens if James Sheppard, Rochester’s former police chief and current county legislator, decides to throw his hat into the ring, as has long been rumored?

Interesting things are playing out in the background, too. Warren and lobbyist-political operative Robert Scott Gaddy are both protégés of State Assembly David Gantt, but Gaddy seems to be in Barnhart’s corner these days. Who would Gaddy support in a Barnhart-Warren primary battle? And what does that mean for Gantt?

Money may be an issue for Barnhart. She wasn’t able to compete with Bronson’s fund-raising during the primary campaign and pointed to that as a major reason for her defeat. Well, if she was intimated by Bronson’s war chest, she should be downright terrified of Warren’s. At last check, Warren had more than $250,000 socked away. (Compare that to the MCDC’s $29,000, and you see why Warren doesn’t have to make time for the party.)

One final observation: Barnhart’s confirmation arguably puts her book, “Broad, Casted” into a new context. Now it’s both a reflection on her State Assembly campaign and an opening salvo in a possible mayoral battle. In her chapter on Warren, Barnhart describes the mayor’s behavior at a 2014 press conference as “childish” and “undignified” and accuses her of arrogance. She also says that the mayor was “wildly unprepared to deal with the spotlight” after she was elected.

WEEK AHEAD: Events for the week of Monday, December 5

Posted By on Mon, Dec 5, 2016 at 9:33 AM

A public forum on the state of police-community relations will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. today (Monday, December 5), at the Adams Street rec center, 85 Adams Street. This is the last forum in Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren's 90 Days of Community Engagement Initiative.

The forum is a chance for the community to share ideas on improving the interaction between the Rochester Police Department and city residents.


The Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative will provide an update on its work at 6 p.m. tonight (Monday, December 5) at Nativity Preparatory Academy, 15 Whalin Street. The event is free and open to the public.

The effort is about to start its first program: an adult mentoring effort in its three target neighborhoods: Beechwood, EMMA, and Marketview Heights. The goal is to serve 300 families.

The anti-poverty group’s overall goal is to cut poverty in Rochester in half over 15 years.


The Racial Justice Initiative of Metro Justice wants to hear your ideas to fight bigotry in the community and the country following the election of Donald Trump. The group will hold a conversation at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, December 6, at School Without Walls, 480 Broadway. BY CHRISTINE CARRIE FIEN


The Monroe County Legislature will hold a public hearing on County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo’s 2017 budget proposal at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, December 8. The hearing will take place in the County Office Building, 39 West Main Street, right before the Legislature’s Ways and Means Committee meeting.

Dinolfo’s $1.2 billion proposal keeps the county tax rate at $8.99 per $1,000 assessed value. But it doesn’t contain the child care subsidy boost that children’s advocates pushed for. BY JEREMY MOULE

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Warren aims to get rid of red-light cameras

Posted By on Thu, Dec 1, 2016 at 11:44 AM

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren says she will submit legislation to City Council to end the city’s red-light camera program at midnight on December 31. Outstanding tickets and tickets issued up until that time would still have to be paid.

She cannot wage a fight against poverty while supporting a program that disproportionately affects the city’s poorest, Warren said at a press conference this morning. The people living in the city’s poorest ZIP codes receive the highest number of red-light tickets, she said. And a study on the effectiveness of the city’s program was inconclusive, Warren said.  (Curious: Referencing the study, the city's website says, "A study conducted by an independent engineering and consulting firm has concluded that the Red Light Camera Traffic Safety Program is preventing accidents and keeping city intersections safe. The firm has recommended that the red light camera program continue.)

“All programs have a beginning and an end, and it’s time to bring this one to an end,” she said.

The city makes $800,000-$1 million annually from red-light ticket fees.

Cynically, eliminating the program is a smart political move for a mayor heading into a re-election year. The cameras are wildly unpopular for myriad reasons, including the one that Warren cited — the lopsided effect on the poor.

People often get tickets but can't pay them, so the punishments escalate in severity and people fall farther and farther behind. Eventually they could lose access to their vehicles.

Questions have also been raised about the effectiveness of red-light cameras — critics say they’re about raising money, not promoting safety.

And there have been controversies, including accusations that some communities shortened yellow lights in order to nab more violators.

WHM Film Series: "Born in Flames" @ The Little Theatre

Discussion to follow film with filmmaker Lizzie Borden....
Patagonia’s Worn Wear College Tour and Lecture @ Rochester Institute of Technology

Patagonia’s Worn Wear College Tour and Lecture @ Rochester Institute of Technology

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