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Budget gap grows for Rochester schools 

A little over a month ago, Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas cautioned school board members about a budget gap for the 2014-2015 school year that could top $30 million. But he revised that projected gap to $42 million at a recent board meeting.

Vargas said the increase became apparent after hearing Governor Andrew Cuomo's state budget presentation last week. Vargas said that Rochester will benefit from more state funding for universal full-day pre-K — something Vargas has envisioned for some time. The district's budget has thus far supported mostly half-day pre-K.

But much of the boost in state funds — about $6.3 million — will go to city charter schools, Vargas said. And that reflects a trend.

As more charter schools open and more city school students enroll in them, the district's overall budget may look the same, he said, but the amount going to city school students is actually decreasing.

"The growth of charter schools is a significant threat to the Rochester school system," Vargas said.

The widening budget gap is coming just as newly elected school board President Van White has formed four committees to brainstorm ideas to improve student performance. White said he wants to use the feedback from the committees to help prioritize next year's budget.

Vargas said that district families and educators need to lobby lawmakers in Albany for more resources to help close the $42 million gap. But board Vice President Cynthia Elliott said that the district needs to examine its labor agreements and negotiate cost reductions.

"We need to push back on our unions and ask them to sacrifice," Elliott said. "Before we go to Albany, we have to tell them, 'You've got to give up some of the money.'"

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