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'Don't blame city parents'

I was disappointed to read that Rochester schools superintendent Vargas was essentially blaming Rochester parents for the district's budget woes ("Budget Gap Grows for Rochester Schools," News). It is scapegoating at its worst to blame parents for opting out of the state's lowest performing school district and choosing public charter schools.

How can you blame them? Almost every Rochester charter is doing better than the district schools – and they are doing it with almost the same percentage of economically disadvantaged kids (it's 80 percent in charters to 85 percent for the district). It's no wonder that charter enrollment is up.

The dirty little secret is that the state actually sends Rochester about $10 million in bonus funding called "transitional aid" precisely because there are so many students in the city's charters. And when you consider that the district no longer needs to provide teachers, classrooms, and playgrounds for these kids, there is no rational way to blame charter parents for creating this budget problem. The real problem is that the district needs to right-size itself and focus on improvement, because most of these parents aren't coming back anytime soon.

Rochester was once a city that aspired to create more district-charter collaboration and parent choice. It's sad to see that great potential devolve into scapegoating of charters and parents for budget problems that aren't of their own making.


Rosenkrans is vice president of the Northeast Charter Schools Network

Editor's note: Rochester school district officials offer the following response. "The state's purpose in providing the aid is to help offset the increased tuition costs associated with rising numbers of students attending charter schools. This school year, the district is paying $41.1 million in charter-school tuition for 3,245 students; next year, the budget projects $51.7 million for 4,110 students.

"The letter-writer is not correct to describe the transition aid as a 'dirty little secret.' It is reported as a separate line item in the budget book and all district revenue reports.

"If the letter's implication is that the district benefits from students enrolling in charters, that is also incorrect. The transition aid does not offset the increase in tuition costs. It also does not offset the cost of services that the district is required to provide charter schools without additional aid: transportation, nursing services, special education services, and instructional materials aid (textbooks, library books, computer hardware and software).

"Superintendent Vargas frequently cites growing charter-school enrollment as one of the key reasons that the district must work to improve with a strong sense of urgency. The financial cost is not the only concern, but enrollment losses to charter schools are definitely a drain on district resources. The strategies Dr. Vargas is pursuing are aimed at creating district schools that families find preferable to charters and want to choose."

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