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Communications Bureau, City of Rochester

Monroe Community College is exploring the idea of vacating the Sibley Building immediately. The school is looking at other sites where it can hold classes and asked Kodak about the possibility of moving in right now, instead of after renovations.

MCC thinks Winn Development, which plans to buy Sibley, wants too much money. Winn thinks it’s offering Sibley a deal. Winn officials say if MCC moves out now, the development of Sibley will proceed.

If MCC gets out of Sibley soon, there are some serious questions:

1. What is the cost of temporary space, including setting up classrooms, versus the cost of leasing at Sibley?

2. What happens if the county legislature doesn’t sign off on the purchase of the Kodak buildings? MCC would be effectively homeless downtown.

3. Is MCC trying to do an end-run around the legislature by getting into Kodak early under a lease?

4. What is MCC’s commitment to a downtown campus?

The board of trustees meets on Monday to make a decision. MCC officials have demonstrated they are seriously anti-Sibley. Here are a series of tweets from President Anne Kress today. The last one is priceless:

Links of the Day:

- It would be very sad if the Western New York Flash cannot find a new league to play in this year. The team was important to the stadium, community and women’s sports. What’s more, the players were just starting to make a name for themselves in Rochester. In an Olympic year, I think we would have seen the same excitement that surrounded the Women’s World Cup.

Bob Matthews writes:

Women’s Professional Soccer’s decision not to play the 2012 season means the defending champion Western New York Flash could be a footnote in Rochester’s sports history. That’s sad.

They’d join the 1974 box lacrosse Rochester Griffins as the only Rochester pro teams to win a championship in their first season and then disappear.

<snip>

If you saw the Flash play, you know it was a terrific product. If you didn’t see them play, you don’t know what you missed.

The Democrat and Chronicle reported the athletes found out they were essentially laid off via email:

“I just sat there, completely shocked,” one of hard-working cogs (Brittany Bock) who helped the Flash win the WPS Championship last summer in their inaugural season said from Denver. “I called my Dad. I cried. I was overwhelmed.”

<snip>

“I feel like I got hit by a truck,” Flash forward McCall Zerboni said of Monday’s announcement.

- An editorial from the Democrat and Chronicle calling for more investigations in LeRoy and “agreement” about a diagnosis is exactly the kind of thing Bob Lonsberry was referring to when he wrote his column blasting the media for downplaying medical experts:

Reports focused not on medical knowledge or expertise, but on baseless and ignorant speculations.

<snip>

The simple, plain answer, obtainable from any doctor they put a microphone in front of, was ignored and largely unreported.

They pretended there was a mystery here when, in fact, there was none.

- The Strong was named by Forbes one of the best children’s museum in the country.

- Rochesterians really like to play the New York State Lottery.

- I’ve become a big fan of “Downton Abbey.” Here’s a little history on the castle at the center of the show.

America’s cities are becoming less segregated, according to a new report by the Manhattan Institute.

The report names several reasons for the racial integration:

  1. Black people have moved to the suburbs. There are very few all-white neighborhoods these days. Most neighborhoods have at least a few black residents.
  2. Ghettos are emptying out. We’ve certainly seen this in Rochester. One census tract in northeast part of the city lost one-third of its residents in the last decade. Some of this has to do with public housing policies that fostered integration. The study noted, however, that while all-white neighborhoods are becoming extinct, the number of predominantly black neighborhoods declined only 7 percent from 2000 to 2010.
  3. Gentrification and immigration. White people and immigrants are moving into ghettos in some cities, though this is seen as a minor factor.

What’s the story in Rochester?

The report found only slightly more integration here in the last decade. A look at the numbers shows segregation still persists.

Rochester’s Dissimilarity Index went from 65 percent in 2000 to 62 percent in 2010. That means 62 percent black people would have to move to create even distribution of races.

Rochester’s Isolation Index went from 36 percent in 2000 to 34 percent in 2010. That means the average black person lives in a neighborhood with 34 percent more black people than the metropolitan average.

Buffalo is more segregated than Rochester. Albany is less segregated. Syracuse is about the same. Binghamton was on the list of top 10 metro areas with the largest increases in segregation.

Why do we care?

Separate is unequal, as our history has taught us. Integration is important to decrease racism, isolation and poverty. It’s also important to increase opportunity and equality. But the study’s authors conclude racial integration is not a cure-all:

Yet we now know that eliminating segregation was not a magic bullet. Residential segregation has declined pervasively, as ghettos depopulate and the nation’s population center shifts toward the less segregated Sun Belt. At the same time, there has been only limited progress in closing achievement and employment gaps between blacks and whites.

I would have liked to see a report on economic and educational segregation, as well. Nothing’s a “magic bullet,” but our community still feels pretty segregated, doesn’t it?

Links of the Day:

My first TV job in 1997 paid me what New York State’s minimum wage is in 2012, about $15,000 a year. I couldn’t live off of that salary then and I can’t imagine anyone can do it now.

Assembly Democrats are introducing a bill today to raise the state’s minimum wage to $8.50 and peg it to inflation. Gannett reports:

New York’s minimum wage is more than $3 less than what it would be if it had kept pace with inflation in the past four decades, according to the National Employment Law Project Action Fund. The state’s minimum wage has gone up 10 cents in the last five years and is lower than 18 other states.

Ten states index their minimum wages each year to keep pace with the rising cost of living, the group said.

Cuomo hasn’t taken a position on the issue.

The Albany Times Union reports raising the minimum wage will be a tough sell. Do you think the Occupy movement spurred this proposal or improves its chances of passing?

- New York State could matter in the GOP presidential primary.

- Hammondsport wants to be named the “Coolest Small Town in America.”

- Kids these days. You have to make sure they’re not hiding cell phones or drugs in their clothing. A Pennsylvania school banned Ugg boots because they’re a haven for contraband cell phones. A Utah TV station warns parents about “stash pockets.” I suppose it’s easier to ban the clothes than fight the actual problem.

Links of the Day:

- The Buffalo news has written a must-read story on LeRoy teens and conversion disorder. It’s a complete takedown of alternative theories to their illness. The news interviews a neurologist whose practice tested and treated the girls. He’s concerned some have rejected the conversion disorder diagnosis and are no longer seeking treatment:

No amount of media coverage or speculation these past few weeks has changed that diagnosis. Even the speculating psychologists and physician contributors on national TV do not dispute the findings.

“People do not want to accept that,” said Dr. Lazlo Mechtler, one of two neurologists at Dent Neurologic Institute who have evaluated 12 of the 15 cases that have come to light so far. “They live a conspiracy life in a bioterrorist world.”

<snip>

…a number of patients have improved since they began treatment, and two are now fine.

<snip>

Health professionals who have studied mass psychogenic illness say heightened attention only worsens symptoms.

This doctor has given several interviews since the story went national to stop misinformation. Is it now time for the media to back off in the absence of any other evidence causing the illness? It’s a complicated topic I wrote about yesterday.

- An opinion piece in the New York Times says hysteria in teenage girls happens.

- Those Xerox call center jobs will pay only $25,000. Xerox, a multi-billion dollar corporation, could end up paying nothing for the project.

- A Webster teacher has a suggestion for teacher evaluations. Have parents ask teachers how much they know about each child.

- She was a CIA agent and mother killed in Afghanistan by a suicide bomber. Some are blaming her for her own death.

The LeRoy Central School District sent out this statement to the media today (emphasis added by me):

 This morning, without any prior notice to the District, camera crews from a number of media sources, including both national and local outlets, entered District property for the purpose of filming an unidentified individual taking soil samples.

It is appalling that whatever group or entity employing this individual, as well as the media outlets participating in this effort, chose to conduct themselves in this way – which can only be characterized as grandstanding. Not only was this criminal activity which forced the District to call in local law enforcement to maintain the security of its property, it disrupted the District’s preparations for a weekend music event involving students from over twenty-two schools as well as other student activities. No legitimate organization would function in this manner.

As previously indicated, the District is working in conjunction with local and state agencies relative to this matter. Based upon the results from testing already conducted at the District as well as review of other information from multiple sources, environmental factors have not been identified as a cause of the symptoms that have manifested in some students. Testing conducted with rogue samples is of no scientific value, as it is not conducted in accordance with scientific methodologies and safety protocols utilized by reputable environmental experts in all testing situations. In fact, such actions could hamper the coordinated effort already underway by the District in conjunction with environmental, health, and safety experts to address this matter. The District will continue to provide information with respect to these efforts as it becomes available.

Local law enforcement will continue to monitor the security of the District’s property.

I have no idea which media outlets or individuals were involved or if the characterization of the incident by the school district is accurate. Media cannot be blamed for covering the LeRoy girls extensively. The families, devastated by the girls’ illness, have sought this attention. The LeRoy community is very worried about what’s going on.

But don’t we already know what’s going on? Doctors have made a diagnosis of conversion disorder, yet many are still referring to the situation as a “mystery.” There has been no other plausible explanation. People suspected the HPV vaccine caused the tics, but the Democrat and Chronicle reported few of the girls got the shot. Erin Brockovich suspects environmental causes, but that theory has been debunked by the state and there is no new proof.

Conversion disorder is a psychological issue that manifests itself in the body. The New York Times did a story in 2006 about brain images showing it’s a real disease. The article also noted there is much we don’t know about it:

Conversion disorder has long been a troubling diagnosis because it hinges on negative proof: if nothing else is wrong with you, maybe you’ve got it.

This has led to some obvious problems. For one thing, it means hysteria has been a dumping ground for the unexplained. A number of diseases, including epilepsy andsyphilis, once classified as hysterical, have with time and advancing technology acquired biomedical explanations.

Such specious history makes patients skeptical of the diagnosis, even though the rates of misdiagnosis have gone down. (One widely cited 1965 study reported that over half of the patients who received a diagnosis of conversion disorder would later be found to have a neurological disease; more recent studies put the rate of misdiagnosis between 4 percent and 10 percent.)

Are the LeRoy teens part of the 4 to 10 percent? We don’t know. We also don’t have any proof to suggest otherwise.

It’s entirely appropriate to continue monitoring the developments in this case. There’s a place for skepticism of the scientists, doctors and school officials dealing with this crisis. There is also a place for facts.

Links of the Day:

- An acquaintance who teaches at a Rochester City School District elementary school has a principal who wanted to see if single-sex classrooms improve learning. (I am not sharing the school, grade, or the teacher’s gender to protect teacher’s identity.) The teacher was assigned an all-boys classroom. The class is small, fewer than 20 students. The teacher was excited at the beginning of the school year.

The experiment is not working.

The classroom is akin to a grade-school frat house. The boys are aggressive. They “play fight.” They tell “boy jokes” to each other all day. They are filled with energy. The rambunctious class doesn’t get recess and has gym only once a week, down from three times a week last school year.

The teacher, who is no rookie, is able to maintain control and teach the day’s lessons. But the teacher says the classroom dynamic is much worse with all boys and the teacher spends far more time on classroom management.

This teacher’s experience brought to mind a recent study showing single-sex education is ineffective. The New York Times wrote up the research:

It asserts that “sex-segregated education is deeply misguided and often justified by weak, cherry-picked or misconstrued scientific claims rather than by valid scientific evidence.”

But the strongest argument against single-sex education, the article said, is that it reduces boys’ and girls’ opportunities to work together, and reinforces sex stereotypes. “Boys who spend more time with other boys become increasingly aggressive,” the article said. “Similarly, girls who spend more time with other girls become more sex-typed.”

The RCSD recently opened an all-boys high school at Charlotte. There is also an all-boys charter school, where the test results closely mirror those in the RCSD.

There is a mentality in poor-performing urban school districts that “we have to do something” to help failing children. But often, that “something” is not rooted in any research. In some cases, that “something” has actually been proven to not work, such as teacher bonuses.

This teacher’s story shows experimenting with kids is “something” that may not be right.

- Kudos to the Democrat and Chronicle for following up on the story of Alonzo Williams, a young man who has been missing. There has been growing frustration the news media ignores missing black people.

- The Pittsford Food Cupboard needs help. The shelves at the pantry in our area’s wealthiest community are nearly bare.

- Bobcats are making a comeback in New York State.

Kodak.com

More Links of the Day, Kodak version:

- During a bankruptcy, it’s not uncommon for CEOs to get big bonuses. The Wall Street Journal lists a number of chief executive officers who made out like bandits while laying off workers, closing factories and watching their companies sink into financial oblivion.

For example, Lear Corp. filed for bankruptcy in 2009. It’s CEO got a bonus of $5.4 million and stock worth $11.78 million when the company emerged from bankruptcy.

There’s a federal rule designed to curb such payouts, but corporations have found a way around it through special incentive packages. Here’s an excerpt from the WSJ article, which is behind a paywall:

By examining court documents and regulatory filings, The Wall Street Journal was able to determine the pay of executives at 21 of the 100 largest companies that recently went through bankruptcy. Together, the chief executives of those firms earned more than $350 million in salary, bonuses, stock grants and severance for the periods their companies were under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection or just afterward.

 

The median compensation of the 21 CEOs was $8.7 million—not far off from the $9.1 million median compensation in 2010 for CEOs of Standard & Poor’s 500 companies, according to data compiled by Kevin Murphy, a University of Southern California finance professor.

There is much speculation about the future of Kodak’s CEO Antonio Perez. If he survives the company’s trip through bankruptcy – it’s possible creditors will force him out – details about his compensation will be filed with the court. The judge would have to approve any incentive packages. But as the WSJ noted, there is precedence for rewarding CEOs that helped their companies fail and then come back to life.

- Kodak asked the bankruptcy court’s permission to pay $40 million to a select group of vendors. In a court filing (read it here) the company notes it has 2,000 vendors who are owed $332 million. The vendors Kodak wants to pay now are suppliers of raw materials and chemicals, as well as information technology services. Kodak calls them critical. Law 360 reports, in an article behind a paywall, the judge postponed a decision on the request:

The pushback from the judge and the ensuing delay are notable because motions to pay critical vendors in large corporate bankruptcies are often granted right away, in part because when key vendors don’t get paid they might threaten to halt delivery of important goods and services that will allow the company to keep operating.

 

There are plenty of reasons for judges to be cautious about granting such motions. In particular, they allow the critical vendors — who would otherwise just be unsecured creditors — to jump to the very front of the line.

While the rest of the unsecured creditors will have to wait — possibly for years — to get paid back some of what they’re owed for prepetition claims, critical vendors who are plucked from the bunch get their money before the case even really gets underway.

- Bankruptcy has a human toll. The Harvard Business Review talks about the pain shared by workers and a community. The article quotes former Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy:

Anne Mulcahy, the former CEO of Xerox, understood how devastating a bankruptcy would be to her employees. In 2000, when her advisers recommended that Xerox file for bankruptcy, she said the following:

“You just don’t get it. You don’t understand what it’s like to be an employee in this company. To fight and come out and win. Bankruptcy’s never a win. You know what? I’m not going there until there’s no other decision to be made. There are a lot more cards to play.”

Mulcahy’s concern about employees paid off. Her conviction carried Xerox through four years of struggle to undeniable success.

– Readers of Rochester Business Journal are divided on whether Kodak can emerge from bankruptcy.

- CNN looks at the success of Kodak spinoff, Eastman Chemical.

Links of the Day:

- Buffalo is finally getting its fair share, according to the Buffalo News editorial board:

We understand why other upstate cities are covetous of the billion dollars’ worth of affection that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is prepared to lavish on Buffalo. They want some loving, too. We might feel the same in their shoes.

Yet, those cities are missing the larger point, one that Cuomo understands and that should help him stay firm in his commitment. Buffalo, the state’s second-largest city, is failing worse than others. Those two facts — the city’s size and its long-term trajectory — send damaging reverberations throughout the state economy.

<snip>

What is more, as Cuomo also observed, Buffalo simply hasn’t gotten its fair share from Albany…

The idea that Buffalo has been comparatively neglected by Albany is laughable when you consider it has gotten more state aid per capita than Rochester for many years. Rochester is also required to give its schools twice what Buffalo is required.

The poverty rate in Rochester is worse. Buffalo’s schools perform slightly better. While Rochester’s regional economy is certainly performing better, the urban areas have the exact same challenges.

- Albany has a law against predatory towing that it will now have to defend in court.

- People have been killed making iPads. In an important piece of journalism, The New York Times exposes harsh working conditions in Chinese factories.

- Gerrymandering is alive and well. Rochester could be represented by six state senators.

- Kids in preschool and daycare don’t get to play, because providers are worried they’ll get hurt. Lenore Skenazy writes in the Wall Street Journal:

In striving to make our kids super safe and super smart we have turned them into bored blobs.

- The search for what is causing the LeRoy girls’ illness continues, even though doctors have already made a diagnosis of conversion disorder.

Is Xerox, which posted profits of $1.3 billion last year, getting a call center courtesy of taxpayers?

Xerox – after several weeks of mildly threatening to locate the call center elsewhere – decided to proceed with plans to renovate a portion of Building 200 in Webster. The call center would employ 500 people over two years and cost $4.3 million.

The company had already been awarded $271,000 in county sales tax breaks. But the state press release made clear what sealed the deal: a $1 million grant and $5 million in job creation tax credits.

If you do the math, $1 million plus $5 million minus $4.3 million means Xerox comes out ahead.

Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy and County Executive Maggie Brooks seemed genuinely started when I pointed out the call center would essentially be free and questioned the accuracy of the state’s press release.

But both defended giving the project incentives.

“It’s not about giving anyone a free call center. It’s all about leveling the playing field for companies that want to stay here because they have a larger investment,” said Brooks.

“I can assure you that other governors in other states would be right there offering to build this,” said Duffy.

A Xerox spokesman disputed the idea the company would be getting a free call center. He tax credits are not cash and they are paid out after many years and only if Xerox creates and retains jobs. But the spokesman could not say exactly how much money the tax credits would be worth.

Austin Shafran, a spokesman for the Empire State Development Corporation, also said this is not a free call center. He said tax credits are paid out over 10 years and Xerox must adhere to its job creation and investment agreement.

“Only after verifiable proof has been demonstrated will the company get the tax credits,” Shafran said. “The tax credits are paid off over a long term period, get paid off over 10 years.”

Shafran says it’s not fair to compare tax credits with Xerox’s $4.3 million investment. I disagree because Xerox may not have moved forward with the call center without the incentives. Tax credits are worth money, whether Xerox realizes that savings up front or down the road. The fact is the company could eventually recoup its $4.3 investment.

As for the jobs being created, Xerox couldn’t say how much they would pay. Innovation Trail points out call centers don’t pay a whole lot. Also, Xerox is being rewarded for creating 500 jobs after eliminating 500 local jobs in 2011. (Two-hundred-fifty were outsourced to another company, much to the consternation of those workers.)

Whether the state foots the bill for some or all of this project, it’s clear taxpayers are paying a lot so a multi-billion dollar corporation can rehab an existing building to create low-paying jobs.

Links of the Day:

- News Flash! A first grade boy from the Syracuse area “escaped” from school and walked a half-mile home without getting abducted or run over by a car.

Little Nathan left school because he doesn’t like sloppy joes. His mother made a huge stink – and the Syracuse Post-Standard bit. She blamed the loss of cafeteria aides for not keeping an eye on her kid. The mother, who says she drives her kids to school every day, feels this is a horrible outrage, because something bad could have happened:

“He said he kept saying to himself, ‘there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home,’” she said. “What if that had been his last thought before he was run over?”

Of course, kids shouldn’t be allowed to leave school whenever they want. But my takeaway from this story wasn’t that little Nathan could have been killed. It was that little Nathan is a mischievous and independent boy who is capable of walking .66 miles by himself.

The kids in Maplewood, including myself, walked to #7 School alone when we were Nathan’s age. Crime stats indicate Rochester was far more dangerous back then. It’s not the times that have changed – it’s the cultural norms.

My colleague, Evan Dawson, wrote about becoming a father and fearing his child won’t have the same freedom we had as children. I told him to start reading the Free Range Kids blog. Lenore Skenazy’s message is that society cannot eliminate all risk and in the process of trying, creates real harm.

- Cuomo has an “Indian problem,” writes City & State. Native Americans have been excluded from the table, the column says.

- Cuomo’s “transparency website” is anything but, Innovation Trail discovered in a thorough takedown of the effort.

- A bunch of doctors have diagnosed the LeRoy teens with conversion disorder. At what point should the media stop calling it a “mystery?” It is very common with conversion disorder for families to reject the diagnosis and doctor shop.

- Rochester was once home to the “Waldorf of Western New York.”

Recently, I searched online for a “swim pedometer,” something to count distance and calories. The next day, I read an article on the Syracuse Post-Standard website and noticed a whole bunch of ads for swimming gear.

Coincidence? I think not.

Websites have long been using data from our posts, searches and browsing history to tailor our experiences. Facebook is the king of all data mining, deciding which of our friends to highlight in the News Feed and which advertisements to show us.

But many people think Google has gone too far in revamping its privacy policy. Here’s an excerpt of the policy:

…there’s so much more that Google can do to help you by sharing more of your information with … well, you…We can provide more relevant ads…We can provide reminders that you’re going to be late for a meeting based on your location, your calendar and an understanding of what the traffic is like that day. Or ensure that our spelling suggestions, even for your friends’ names, are accurate because you’ve typed them before. People still have to do way too much heavy lifting, and we want to do a better job of helping them out.

An entertaining column in the Washington Post asks Google not to be “creepy” and said this feels like the loss of anonymity on the Internet:

Ten years ago, if your mailman had demanded to follow you around, taking note of all your appointments, giving you directions and asking to see all the pictures you took and videos you watched, “Look,” you might have said, “you’re very good, but can you stick to delivering mail unless I ask you to do otherwise? You already read all my letters and send me ads for enhancement services that I did not know I required. And this is getting a little disturbing.” Even worse if it’s the silent man at the library who looks up esoterica for you.

PC Magazine points out Google’s new privacy policy doesn’t spell out new practices as much as it is a wake up call. Google already collects a lot of information about users. Google will now collect our information as we jump across services, from Google mail to Google search to Google Plus. It will have a fuller picture of our identities.

Google says it won’t give our information to advertisers and we will be able to adjust our privacy settings. But you can’t really “opt out” unless you never log into Google services. I’m not convinced there are alternatives that won’t do exactly the same thing. When we go online, we are automatically placing a terrifying amount of trust in the websites we visit.

Either Google is pioneering a truly fantastic way to integrate the Internet into our lives or this is some scary stuff. Maybe it’s both.

Links of the Day:

- There’s a push in poor-performing urban school districts to lengthen the school day and year. The idea makes sense for children who need to improve test scores, have unstable home situations and little access to extracurricular enrichment.

But what about the children in these districts who are doing very well? The Chicago Tribune reports on a “social divide” the longer school day mandate has exposed:

Some students endure 45-minute bus or car rides to school every day, and their parents worry about them being exhausted. They fret that a longer day will encroach upon after-school sports and drama classes. And at academically successful schools, parents question whether their children even need the extra class time.

<snip>

But the longer school day debate has exposed the social divide in a district with 86 percent of students classified as low-income, but with a growing number of middle- and upper-middle-income families speaking out against across-the-board district policies.

Adam Urbanski, head of the Rochester Teachers Association, has said a longer school day is not right for every school and child. As the district and union begin talks on lengthening the school day, Interim Superintendent Bolgen Vargas has indicated there won’t be a blanket mandate.

One way to build flexibility – and save on overtime – is to have staggered staff and student schedules. For example, some staff could teach from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and other staff from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Students could attend school from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. or another slot in the middle. I learned about this approach from former Freddie Thomas Principal Sandy Jordan, who said the staggered scheduled was popular with staff and students.

- The Healthcare Association of New York State is out with a study on physician shortages. It shows a loss of physicians in many Upstate rural counties. In the Rochester region, 59 percent of respondents to the survey said they reduced or eliminated services because there weren’t enough doctors. Here is a link to the PDF.

City of Rochester Communications Bureau

- Here’s something to think about the next time you drive by Midtown Plaza. A study found rehabbing existing buildings is almost always more environmentally friendly than building new “green” ones.

 

In his State of the Schools speech, Rochester City School District Interim Superintendent Bolgen Vargas said he wants schools to be like Wegmans. Parents, students and staff should be treated like customers and be able to get answers to their questions. Vargas said schools should be pleasant places and embody the “Wegmans experience.”

(I’m envisioning students pushing grocery carts filled with books down softly-lighted hallways to the Market Cafe for lunch.)

The RCSD faces a $41 million gap. Vargas plans on using $20 million in reserves. The district is getting an extra $10 million from the state. That leaves $11 million the district will have cut – a very manageable figure.

“We are going to end the annual budget drama,” Vargas said.

Vargas also said he is in talks with the teachers union about extending the school day and year. (That could be very expensive, but staggered staff schedules can help trim costs.) He wants Central Office staff to go into schools and substitute teach.

Vargas is clearly very different from his predecessor, Jean-Claude Brizard. He’s conciliatory and eager to please. It’s hard to see him getting into fights with parents, politicians or teachers.

Is Vargas’ kindness a weakness? Can he translate his goals into action? Will he be given time to try?  Those are questions the school board will be asking as it decides whether to give Vargas the permanent job.

Vargas has set the bar high. Wegmans ranks as one of the top companies for employees and its motto is, “Every day you get our best.”

Other items of note:

- The RCSD shared its graduation rate projections. The news is not good.

- Governor Andrew Cuomo is stopping in Buffalo Wednesdsay. When is he visiting Rochester? There are some reporters who’d like to pepper him questions about Buffalo’s billion, Kodak, Rochester’s state aid disparity and other issues.

- Buffalo’s city council passed new food truck rules. The regulations permit the trucks to operate more freely. Alas, Rochester pretty much bans all food trucks, except at festivals and on private property.

- Syracuse is worried about losing the Golden Snowball to Binghamton. Buffalo and Rochester are essentially tied for third place.

Links of the Day:

- Cleveland hopes to succeed where Rochester failed. A ferry service has been proposed from the Ohio city to Canada. A businessman would like to restart ferry service from Rochester to Toronto, but it won’t happen this year.

- Rochester was named one of the top 10 affordable housing markets in the U.S. in a recent survey. The study divided each region’s median housing price by median household income to come up with the list.

- The I-Square development appears stalled. The builder, Mike Nolan, referred me to his Facebook page. The posts are a bit a rant. Nolan is a rookie developer. This is a popular project, but did he think this would be rubber-stamped?

- The Buffalo News editorial board compares Kodak’s bankruptcy with the decline of Buffalo manufacturing:

As neighbors in this end of the state, Buffalo and Rochester have had much in common as manufacturing powerhouses that went into decline. The Buffalo Niagara region had 92,600 manufacturing jobs in 1990, compared with 49,200 in 2011, according to the state Department of Labor. The Rochester area had 124,100 manufacturing jobs in 1990, compared with 60,000 last year.

More Links of the Day, Kodak version:

- Kodak filed a Public Lender Presentation that has some insight into where the company is headed. (Read the document at bottom of this post.)

1. The plan lists four key objectives, among them “fairly resolve legacy liabilities.” That means pensions, health care and the cost of current workers. (Page 11)

2. Kodak lists divisions it will “manage for cash/value.” Those include cameras, entertainment, patents and film. Many analysts have suspected Kodak will sell off consumer units. This will have an impact on the workers in those units. (Page 12)

3. Kodak lists intellectual property it thinks is valuable. (Pages 14-15)

4. Kodak lists the departments expected to take a hit, including human resources, corporate engineering, finance, research, legal, marketing and purchasing. This is where we could see big job losses. (Page 16)

- Is Antonio Perez the man to guide Kodak through restructuring? He faces some criticism in my 13WHAM report.

- Kodak could have trouble selling its patents if they are encumbered by licenses, as InterDigital discovered.

Read the Public Lender Presentation:

The Rochester City School District’s 2011 graduate rate is projected to fall to 49.4 percent, according to Rochester City Newspaper. The August 2010 graduation rate was 51 percent.

“It’s been a prediction for a very long time,” said school board member Willa Powell. That’s because local diplomas were phased out and students have to score at least a 65 percent on Regents exams. “Students also have to be counted (in our graduation rate) if they show up for only one day.”

Powell said she would be relieved if the final graduation rate figure calculated by the state doesn’t come in even lower.

The prospects for the Class of 2012 are not much better. At the beginning of the school year, only one-third of seniors were on track to graduate on time. Schools with graduation rates below 60 percent for three years in a row risk having their principals removed.

“People are doing more than ever before to get kids to succeed,” said Powell. “If we did nothing, our graduation rates would look even more abysmal. Failure is built in with No Child Left Behind.”

If this data becomes official, the district hasn’t moved the needle on graduation rates. It also means Jean-Claude Brizard’s tenure didn’t have an impact in this area, although he claimed success at eventually getting more students across the finish line.

August graduation rates:

2008: 52 percent

2009: 46 percent

2010: 51 percent

2011: 49 percent (projected)

Update: Read the district’s projections on the 13WHAM News site.

Portland Loo Facebook Page

 

Here’s a solution to Rochester’s downtown bathroom problem: The Portland Loo.

They’re so awesome, they have a Facebook fan club. The utilitarian steel structures don’t have any frills, such as sinks and mirrors, but there’s room for artwork on the doors. The patented, solar-powered bathrooms can withstand fires. They’re designed to make you want to do your business and get out. The Atlantic noted the openings at the top and bottom:

It may make the water closet look like a cage for a gorilla, but these apertures have critical importance. Cops can peep in near the ground to make sure there’s no more than one set of feet inside. The openings also help sound flow freely, letting pedestrians hear the grunts and splashes of the person inside and the person inside hear the footsteps and conversation of pedestrians. Nobody wants to stick around such a toilet for long.

A single Portland Loo costs about $100,000. Perhaps the downtown business district would be willing to sponsor a couple. They would certainly be an improvement to the ugly, green stalls outside the Sibley building.

How about it?

Links of the Day:

- Just how do you rate a band teacher in the absence of standardized tests? This is a real issue, as the state only tests for math and English in the lower grades. A New York Times columnist points out some absurdities:

Several weeks ago the state sent out a guide. The band teacher could listen to every child play at the start of the year and assign a score from 1 to 4.

“At the end of the year,” the state guide says, “the teacher re-evaluates their students.” (Someone needs to evaluate the state’s grammar.)

The teacher again grades students from 1 to 4, and the sum of the progress they have made during the year determines the teacher’s rating.

Isn’t this a recipe for teachers artificially inflating student progress? It also seems there are so many variables in judging a child’s musical ability.

- How many snowplows does a city need? The Atlantic posed the question to a couple dozen cities and found Buffalo, the city with the most snow, doesn’t have the most plows.

Buffalo has 1.68 snowplows per square mile, fewer than Washington D.C.:

People in Nashville freak out when there are two inches of snow. People in Buffalo freak out when there are two feet. Washington, D.C. gets about 16 inches a year on average, but once every seven years or so, something really wild happens.

 

“We’ve got a lot of people here that are from Buffalo, Boston, Chicago, who are accustomed to driving in snow, and so 3 inches is just sort of a laughable thought,” says William O. Howland, Jr., director of the District’s Department of Public Works. “But we’re really a southern city, and so for most of the people here, 3 inches is not something they’re accustomed to. It’s sort of a balancing act.”

Three inches, in fact, will shut down the school system.

- Lack of snow means big savings for municipalities across the country.

- The Buffalo and Niagara Falls airports are worried TSA agents are scaring passengers away.

- New York shouldn’t bet on casinos, because they don’t create economic development and prey on the poor and working class, according to an op-ed in the New York Times.

More Links of the Day:

- Local tourism campaigns have become such fun.

There was “Buffalo: For Real,” which spawned the hilarious #rocslogan Twitter meme.

We had the guys who created the snarky “Rochester Made” website.

A comedian’s “Iowa Nice” off-color video went viral.

But “North Dakota: Legendary” might take the cake. One of the campaign ads featured flirting women and men with a line about leaving the state a legend. It was pulled because it was deemed too sexy. ABC news interviewed a professor who said strong reactions to tourism campaigns are common.

You think?

(For the record, my favorite campaign was “I’d Rather be in Rochester. It’s Got It.” My least favorite is “Rochester: Made for Living.”)

- Buffalo has a lot of pizza joins per capita. The Buffalo news asks how they are all surviving.

- Buffalo is CORF-ing when it would like to be BIRG-ing.

- There’s a small, but growing number of people speaking up about legalizing drugs.

- Should you be forced to buy health insurance? The Wall Street Journal’s dueling essayists are a good read.