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News Briefs 7.17.02 

Those who frequent the Water Street Music Hall know to make a beeline for the long bar's left side for the coldest beer, swift service, and a slice of local history. There, beneath the neon and Rattlesnake Pete's gaze, stands Chops, Rochester's notoriously sharp-witted, longest-running bartender. "Chops is an institution," says Water Street owner John Chemile. "They built the bar around him. Without Chopsie, there would be no Water Street."

            Chops, aka Angelo Speranza, is a lifer (more than 30 years behind the bar) from an era when drinking had more social merit. He owned The Cozy Corner (corner of Clifford and Miller) for five years before going to work at the Music Hall (then called The Country Warehouse) in 1977. Drinking laws and social moods have changed the business before his eyes.

            "Christ almighty, it's changed," he says. Nobody's buying mixed drinks anymore." Chops' specialty drink is The Monkey's Banana (Frangelico, cranberry juice, lemon, lime, and soda). Alas, the music has changed, too. "You don't see country and western in here anymore," he laments. Pressed about new music, Chops waxes diplomatic: "The music [Chemile] gets is good... and it isn't." Chops enjoys groups like G-Love and The Samples, but isn't too keen on hard rock: "No, I don't think I like that too much."

            In 1943 Chops was stationed in Pisa, Italy, as a paratrooper (708th division), and was in the Normandy invasion on D-Day. "I flew like a bird," he says, refusing to elaborate, sadly citing the many good friends he lost.

            Unfazed by loud music or patron absurdity, Chops is a tenacious bartending blur. You'd better order quick. Those who screw around or hesitate get passed up for those who know the drill, appreciating Chops' no-bullshit approach. "I'm here, that's it," he says. "I just give 'em a drink."

            He's also a true gentleman, and a character who to the downtown culture. And why do they call him Chops? "I love pork chops," he says.

--- Frank De Blase

Interim super arrives

"This is not an attractive job opportunity," says Rochester School Board president Joanne Giuffrida of a job recently filled.

            Indeed, interim school superintendent Manuel Rivera, soothed by $180,000-plus a year, will have his work cut out for him as he succeeds outgoing superintendent Clifford Janey. The district just squeaked through a financial crisis and may face another. And racial-economic segregation still keeps the city schools, despite some world-class successes, in lockdown.

            Rivera, a former Rochester superintendent, spent the last eight years as an executive with Edison Schools Inc., from which he's now on leave. "I have no intention of applying for the [permanent] superintendency here," he says. "I firmly believe the district must have a national search."

            "There are certain things an interim would not do," Rivera says. He won't make any sweeping changes, he says. Yet Rivera indicates that he'll bring in a new style --- much of it gleaned from Edison Inc.'s school takeovers. He says he'll seek "customer satisfaction and achievement" and insure that accurate data are gathered. "People want to know," he says, "that the $400 million [budget] is being managed, and being managed well." With that, he expresses confidence in current finance head Henry Marini.

            Will he advocate for change to the state-aid formula? And what about the GRACE and Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuits to that end? "Where there are opportunities to lobby for additional resources, I absolutely would be involved in that," Rivera says. Yet he quickly changes the subject to the Edison approach. "I'd love for us to do more in technology" in the classroom, he says. He claims Edison schools in many parts of the US have low class sizes, longer school days, more music and art --- more attention per pupil, that is.

            (Edison has had its troubles, including sinking stock prices. A recent SEC report says the company "inaccurately described aspects of its business in SEC filings." Critics ranging from the American Federation of Teachers to researchers at Western Michigan University charge that Edison has inflated its own report cards. And at TheStreet.com, columnist Christopher Byron excoriated Edison for, among other things, making a fat low-interest loan to a top executive.)

            Rivera agrees that some Edison schools have failed, but he says the privatization effort has succeeded overall, as gauged by standardized test scores and other factors. He points to one efficiency: Edison, he says, puts 80 to 85 cents of every dollar back into its schools. And much of the profit goes "into the R&D side," he says.

            "I wouldn't support whole-scale charter programs --- but I do support choice," says Rivera. If Rochester had too many charters, he says, "it would clearly devastate the support system" for other schools. He says, too, that he opposes Cleveland-style vouchers.

            Board member Bolgen Vargas welcomes the new interim. "The contribution Rivera can make is the perspective he had with a private company plus the 20 years he had with the district." Vargas also says "public education is not cheap" --- and he adds that Edison Inc. has come to learn that.

Show me the money

Is Jack Doyle's administration squirreling money away --- money that could ease tough cuts this year --- to shore up the county budget come 2003, when the Republican County Executive is up for re-election?

            Democratic Minority Leader Stephanie Aldersley isn't sure,but she suspects that administrators might be sitting on some extra cash.

            Aldersley wants to know whether there's still money left in the debt service funds attached to past capital improvement projects. If so, she'd like to see that money funneled back into the debt service portion of the county's general fund. That would free up other general-fund money for everything else the county pays for: social services, public health programs, the library, etc.

            "The county knows that if they really have to scrape, they can pull money out into general debt service fund," says Aldersley. "That aids them in getting debt service down and frees up money in the budget for other things."

            Aldersley has requested a full list of debt service funds, with an accounting of the money left in each. She says she doesn't know how much cash, if any, is left over, but says, "My belief is that it probably adds up to a good deal of money. We could use that to offset cuts to things like child protective services."

            If the Republican administration is less than forthcoming with the list, Aldersley says she's prepared to file a request under the Freedom of Information Law.

            Majority Leader Bill Smith says he was unaware of Aldersley's interest in such funds. Asked about the possibility of using them to mitigate the current budget crisis, he says, "I suppose it's possible."

            Calls to county spokespeople and to Gerald Mecca of the county finance department were not returned.

            Aldersley says she predicts that "the administration wants to leave the money in those accounts and hold it until next year." That way, they "make cuts now, so a year from now, when it's an election year, the cuts are not on the front pages."

            Aldersley says she "understands that political reality." But "these are dire straits," she says. "This is the rainy day; they should be reallocating the money now."

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