Wednesday, April 30, 2014

East High proposal to be vetted on Thursday

Posted By on Wed, Apr 30, 2014 at 12:42 PM

East High School - FILE PHOTO
  • East High School
The Rochester school board committee charged with screening a proposal regarding East High School will hold a special meeting at 4 p.m. on Thursday, May 1, at the district's central office, 131 West Broad Street. 

The committee will review the proposal submitted by School Turnaround, an organization that specializes in improving failing schools. Turnaround was the only organization to respond to the district's request for someone to take over operation of East to hopefully improve students' academic performance. 

Turnaround has been invited to tomorrow's meeting, but it's unknown at this time if the organization will attend. The committee has received answers to the many questions they sent to Turnaround about its proposal, and will review those answers at Thursday's meeting. Turnaround's claim that it can boost East's graduation rate from an abysmal 34 percent, approximately, to 100 percent in a relatively short period of time is being met with some skepticism. 

Tomorrow's meeting will be open to the public, but there will not be an opportunity for comments. 

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Monroe County's air quality ranking slips

Posted By on Wed, Apr 30, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Monroe County's grades are slipping a little in terms of air quality. 

This morning, the American Lung Association released its annual State of the Air report. It uses data from a few years to grade air quality in counties and metro areas across the country. Specifically, the Lung Association looks at the number of days where an area's air exceeds certain ozone and particle pollution thresholds.

The Lung Association gave Monroe County solid B's for both the ozone and particle pollution categories. Between 2010 and 2012, Monroe had two days when ozone was present in unhealthy levels for sensitive populations, such as children, the elderly, and people with respiratory conditions, the report says. From 2009 to 2011, the county had one day when particle pollution exceeded a similar threshold.

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Monday, April 28, 2014

Medley developer suing former lender

Posted By on Mon, Apr 28, 2014 at 9:57 AM

The owner of Medley Centre is suing Nomura Credit and Capital, the Japanese bank that withdrew its financing for the redevelopment project. (Read the complaint below.) Bersin Properties planned to make over the moribund mall for housing, retail, a hotel, and entertainment. 

Online records from the county clerk's office show that Bersin filed the lawsuit on Friday. The filings aren't available online, but the developer is likely trying to recover damages suffered when Nomura pulled the Medley financing.

The Town of Irondequoit, East Irondequoit School District, and Monroe County Industrial Development Agency have given Bersin a May 1 deadline to make approximately $3.8 million in payments it owes on the mall project. How the Nomura lawsuit will affect that deadline is unclear.

Nomura Complaint 4 25 by chrisatcity

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WEEK AHEAD: bus how-to; judgment day for Medley; downtown roundup

Posted By on Mon, Apr 28, 2014 at 9:39 AM

The Rochester Transit Service will hold a “How to Ride the Bus” orientation from 10 a.m. to noon on Tuesday, April 29, at the RGRTS administration building, 1372 East Main Street. This is the first of a series designed to help first-time riders or those who might need a refresher. It is free and open to the public.

The workshop will be conducted by RTS Customer Service and includes a test ride on an RTS bus.
The orientation will cover how much the fare costs, how to purchase fares and use the farebox, how to request your stop and get off the bus, and more.

Information on how to ride the bus is also available at

For more information or to register, contact RTS Customer Service at (585) 288-1700 or email

The North Winton Village annual neighborhood meeting is at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 30, at Browncroft Baptist Church, 420 Winton Road. Special guests will be Rochester Deputy Mayor Leonard Redon and county District Attorney Sandra Doorley.

There will be a community speak out against police violence at the corner of Bartlett Street and Jefferson Avenue from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 1.

And there will be a march against police violence and racism from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 3, starting at the corner of Bartlett and Jefferson.

The events are part of the Flying Squirrel’s "Springing into Action Against Police Brutality and Misconduct" series. BY CHRISTINE CARRIE FIEN

Thursday is a crucial date in the long, sad saga of Irondequoit’s Medley Centre.

That’s the deadline for mall owner Bersin Properties to make an approximately $3.8 million payment to the Town of Irondequoit, East Irondequoit School District, and Monroe County Industrial Development Agency. If the company doesn’t come through, COMIDA will terminate Bersin’s tax-incentive agreement and Bersin would likely face legal action.

The company, which is owned by developer Scott Congel, failed to make its annual payment earlier this year. And officials say it also failed to meet investment requirements, which resulted in approximately $3.5 million in penalties.

Bersin Properties representatives have said the company didn’t have money to invest in the mall once it lost its financing from Japanese bank Nomura. Congel has unsuccessfully argued that his tax agreement should be renegotiated.

State Assembly member Joe Morelle has said that it may be time for a new developer — one who can secure financing – to take over the redevelopment of the moribund mall. BY JEREMY MOULE 

Rochester Downtown Development Corporation will present “Downtown Rising,” a look at projects going on downtown, on Friday, May 2.

About six projects will be discussed, such as the new downtown grocery store, the Inner Loop, and the Hive lofts project.

The event will be held at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center on East Main Street. An exhibit of project design renderings will be available from 11 a.m. to noon, followed by a luncheon and speakers from noon to 1:30 p.m.

Individual tickets: $45 for RDDC members; $50 for non-members. Reservations: or 546-6920. BY TIM LOUIS MACALUSO 

Friday, April 25, 2014

In key areas, local Democrats still struggle

Posted By on Fri, Apr 25, 2014 at 1:05 PM

I covered Joe Morelle’s appearance at a young Democrats’ meeting many years ago, not long after he had been named leader of the Monroe County Democratic Committee. I remember being struck
Joe Morelle. - FILE PHOTO
  • Joe Morelle.
 by the mix in the party he had inherited.

On the one hand, New York was on the verge of sending a Democrat, Eliot Spitzer, to the governor’s office. (Oh, how naïve we were.) And then-Senator Hillary Clinton was a lock for re-election.

On the other hand, a story was being passed around that a local Democratic committee had marched in its town’s parade with the word “Democrats” spelled incorrectly. And I remember a friend joking that in some towns in the county, people were happy if the local Democrats showed up to meetings wearing pants.

You can look at Morelle’s tenure as party head — he’s stepping down in September — in terms of wins and losses, or you can look at it in terms of the health of the party as a whole.

Let’s face it; the party boss’s main job is to raise money. And Morelle was, by most accounts, good at that. But in other important areas, the party still struggles. Democrats have lost ground in the County Legislature — they’re within a vote of being totally irrelevant — and they’ve failed to make sustainable progress in the suburbs. Democrats have a significant enrollment advantage over the GOP, but without taking the time to see where those gains were made, it’s safe to say that’s currency the party hasn’t found a way to spend.

And the biggest problem facing the local Democratic Party is the same challenge it faced when Morelle took the leadership in 2005: they have no bench. Quick, who will the Democrats put up for county executive when Maggie Brooks is term-limited out in a couple of years? Anyone? Anyone?

That’s a problem.

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Rochester school district may lease building space to charter

Posted By on Fri, Apr 25, 2014 at 10:01 AM

In an unprecedented move, the Rochester school board voted 5 to 0 in favor of leasing some of its excess building space to a local charter school last night. Board members Cynthia Elliott and Melisza Campos did not attend the meeting.

Sharing public school buildings has been a source of tension between pro-charter and anti-charter groups. While charters are public schools, they do not operate under the same type of governance and oversight as their host district's schools.

Finding adequate building space is a challenge for many charter school operators because they usually do not have the funds to build their own space, and real estate is expensive in many urban areas. The turf war has been most hotly debated in New York City, where Mayor Bill de Blasio planned to begin charging rent to that city's charters.

The situation is a little different in Rochester where enrollment is declining in city schools and climbing in charters. Rochester's school buildings are the property of the city, but they are maintained by the school district.

The resolution the board approved gives Superintendent Bolgen Vargas permission to enter into a lease agreement with True North Preparatory Charter School for the district's building at 690 St. Paul Street, which is also known as 175 Martin Street, from July 2014 through June 2015. 

True North will lease the third floor for $178,125 annually. It can also lease the fifth floor for the same amount, if needed. The lease includes utilities. 

The city school district is currently using much of 690 St. Paul as swing space to house some East High School students while construction is taking place at the East campus. East is one of the schools being overhauled in the multimillion-dollar first phase of the district's school modernization project. East students should vacate 690 St. Paul at the end of the school year in June.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Collections net tons of unused prescription drugs

Posted By on Thu, Apr 24, 2014 at 9:51 AM

In the first three months of 2014, Monroe County collected approximately 1.55 tons, or 3,099 pounds, of unused prescription drugs.

Prescription drug take-backs began a few years ago when reports surfaced that pharmaceutical chemicals were being detected in many water bodies, including the Great Lakes. Improper disposal of unused medication is seen as a major source of the contamination.

Starting with its first drug take-back event in 2010, the county has collected an average of 7.45 tons a year of discarded pharmaceuticals. Based on that average, it collected almost 30 tons of pharmaceuticals over a four-year period. The numbers include the county's two annual take-back events and ongoing collections throughout the year.

But the county isn't the only local government collecting unused drugs. Last week, during the local Sierra Club's annual environmental forum, Brighton Town Board member Louise Novros talked about the results from the town's collection events. Officials have now held seven — they happen every six months — and have brought in more than 3 tons or 6,153 pounds of unused pharmaceuticals, she said.

Monroe County and the Town of Brighton both send the collected drugs to an incinerator in the Niagara Falls area. Law enforcement representatives transport the drugs to that location. 

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Serious questions about East's potential savior

Posted By on Wed, Apr 23, 2014 at 5:07 PM

School Turnaround, the organization that may be charged with rehabilitating East High School, has 48 hours to respond to a barrage of questions, says board president Van White. The committee that screened the proposal had numerous questions at a meeting yesterday, White says, and more questions followed the meeting.

City school board president Van White. - FILE PHOTO.
  • City school board president Van White.
“These are really thoughtful questions that should be explored,” he says.

Turnaround’s representatives will also be invited to Rochester to formally present their proposal to the community, White says. Though there is no indication at this point that Turnaround’s proposal will be approved by the board, White says it’s important that the State Education Department recognizes that the proposal was given serious consideration. Turnaround is affiliated with Rensselaerville Institute.

Working with an Educational Partnering Organization is one of the options that the SED will approve to fix persistently failing schools such as East.

The school, which at roughly 1,800 students is the city’s largest high school, has been on the state’s priority list for three years. After East failed to meet improvement goals, the SED told Rochester schools superintendent Bolgen Vargas that he must come up with a plan to fix the ailing school.

Turnaround’s proposal was the only response to Vargas’s request for a partner organization. In an executive summary, Turnaround promised to raise East's graduation rate to 100 percent. The summary also said that East's graduates would be college ready.

As intriguing as that sounds, the proposal also comes with terms that require serious deliberation, such as removing East’s current principal, Anibal Soler, and replacing him with a new principal trained by Turnaround. The proposal also refers to a process requiring the teachers at East to reapply for their jobs.

And Turnaround envisions East as a school of about 1,000 students, which concerned committee members, since there was no explanation of how the students would be selected or what would happen to East’s remaining 800 students.

One of the biggest hurdles the proposal presents is the nearly complete change in staffing and how that would achieved given the current labor agreements protecting teachers and principals. The labor agreements can be renegotiated, says Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Association, but they can’t be nullified.

“The superintendent and I had this conversation and the contracts would continue to apply,” Urbanski says. “A group can’t just come in and do whatever they want.”

Urbanski said he has not read Turnaround’s proposal, “but we should be careful about any proposal that requires that we reduce the number of students in that school by 40 percent or more.”

Urbasnki said that teachers would retain their seniority rights built into the current RTA labor agreement, which means that teachers displaced at East would be able to bump a less senior teachers at different schools. 

And he recommends extending the time frame for finding a partner organization. Some organizations could not respond in time, Urbanski says, but are interested in submitting a proposal.

“With only one proposal to choose from, ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is not a choice,” he says. 

During the last 15 years, there’s been a slew of nonprofits and businesses that have jumped on the fixing-bad-schools bandwagon. A 2010 article in the New York Times describes it as a virtual education gold rush with many companies pursuing the billions that the Bush and Obama administrations have been pouring into overhauling failing public schools.

“Many of the new companies seem unprepared for the challenge of making over a public school, yet neither the federal government nor many state governments are organized to offer effective oversight,” says a Times source. Overhauling schools is challenging, and few efforts succeed, according to the Times piece.

One former school consultant who has worked on turnaround projects and asked not to be named, says that turning around a failing school is possible, but several things have to occur. The consultant, who is familiar with Rochester’s schools, says that the most important issue is raising academic standards because low performance is what gets the schools in trouble in the first place.

And excellent, high-quality programs are needed to engage students. Often schools in this situation have students performing at multiple levels, he says, so creating, niche, highly personalized programs to meet the needs of different student groups is necessary. 

“You’ve got to have options that are meaningful to students,” he says.

But with declining enrollment, the Rochester school district is undergoing a major contraction that impacts everything from building space to staffing. For instance, prior to yesterday’s committee meeting to screen the EPO proposal, board members heard from dozens of students, parents, teachers, and non-teaching staff concerned about staffing cuts in the proposed 2014-2015 budget. The event was further evidence that low-performing schools inject the entire system with instability, a condition that feeds on itself.

The board has asked Vargas to present an alternative option to School Turnaround's proposal in early May, and the superintendent has to present the SED with a plan to fix East by mid May. 

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School Turnaround promises 100 percent graduation at East

Posted By on Wed, Apr 23, 2014 at 9:10 AM

School Turnaround says that 100 percent of East High's students will graduate and be ready for college if the Rochester school district agrees to partner with the organization to fix the failing high school. 

But to reach those goals, School Turnaround says it will need to fire East's current principal and hire and train a new one. And Turnaround will “revitalize the staff by hiring and rehiring process that identifies those teachers with the energy and commitment to clear results.”

A search committee of the Rochester school board met this evening to review the proposal submitted by School Turnaround to improve East High. It was the only proposal the district received. Working with an Educational Partner Organization such as School Turnaround is one of the options allowed by the State Education Department to fix a failing school.

The EPO would serve as the superintendent of East and report to the school board. EPO's are currently running two Buffalo schools.

The search committee, which is made up of school board members, labor representatives, a student, teacher, and parent at East had many questions to submit to School Turnaround. For starters, the bid spoke of 1,000 students. East, however, has about 1,800 students. So what happens to the other 800 students?

And Turnaround is proposing partnering with Empire State College for teacher development, not something that Empire State is especially known for. Why was Empire chosen over all of the colleges in the Rochester region with solid education and teacher preparation programs?

And a major component of the bid requires developing strong parent engagement, but it doesn’t say how that would be accomplished.

There are also questions about how the district’s massive facilities modernization program would be impacted at East, since costly improvements are supposed to begin at the school soon.

School board President Van White stressed that the committee is on a fact-finding mission. No comments from the public were allowed at this evening’s meeting, and the committee didn't make a recommendation to approve the proposal from Turnaround.

Vargas has until May 15 to respond to the SED with a proposal for improving East.  

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Committee to screen East High proposal tonight

Posted By on Tue, Apr 22, 2014 at 12:27 PM

Changing old habits wired into the psyche is difficult even for the most motivated individuals. And in some ways, that’s what an educational partnering organization will confront working with East High School: changing the old habits of the school’s current leaders.
Special board EPO screening committee formed. - FILE PHOTO.
  • Special board EPO screening committee formed.

The Rochester school board has created an EPO Screening Committee to review the proposal from School Turnaround, an affiliate of Rennselaerville Institute. The committee will meet tonight to review the proposal following a budget deliberation meeting that starts at 6 p.m. in the district’s central office, 131 West Broad Street.

Superintendent Bolgen Vargas has until May 15 to submit a plan to the State Education Department to turn around East, and an EPO is one option. The school board has to approve the proposal before the proposal is submitted to the SED. The Rochester school board is responsible for oversight of the EPO. 

Vargas is expected to present a separate proposal for an East turnaround to the school board in a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 6, at central office. 

Meanwhile, Turnaround’s website touts its ability to intervene in failing schools, and to get results quickly. The organization’s success comes from a rigorous retraining of leadership, since failing schools, in Turnaround’s estimation, begins with lack of leadership.

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