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Rochester City School Superintendent Bolgen Vargas announced he wants to close five schools. The plan comes soon after Vargas hired former deputy mayor Patricia Malgieri, who once wrote up a plan to consolidate schools when she worked for Center for Governmental Research, as his assistant.

The schools on the list have been targeted in the past: #10, #16, #22, #25, and #36. With the exception of #10, they’re in the poorest neighborhoods in the city and have terrible test results. The district closed #10 before – when it was #37 – but in true RCSD fashion, couldn’t resist opening it back up. School #10’s program would be moved to another building.

There’s no doubt the district has to consolidate space, with enrollment declining by more than 5,000 students over the last decade, according to the Democrat and Chronicle. Over the last decade, the district has not done a good job consolidating space, frequently backing off closure plans in the face of community protest.

It’s troubling so many students have been disrupted in recent years. The district has closed failing schools and reopened them as something else, a model Vargas says no longer works. The district has also temporarily relocated hundreds of students as their buildings are renovated.

One could argue it’s the program that matters, not the physical space. But I disagree. School buildings are important anchors in neighborhoods. The schools targeted for closure are beautiful old buildings, with natural wood everywhere, built in shelves, glass cases, and wood floors. Why is it schools are never part of the historic preservation debate in Rochester?

It sounds like the district is trying to include the stakeholders in the decision-making, by scheduling a number of meetings. It will be interesting to see if this sparks major controversy.

Read the decision matrix to close schools. 

Update: The district posted this much simpler document.

13 Responses to Closing Schools. It Begins. (Again.)

  1. November 1, 2012 at 9:59 pm lellingw responds:

    A big problem is the privatization of schools. There is no proof that closing schools helps education. There is no proof that charter schools help education. There is no proof that using standardized tests to grade students and teachers improves education. This is a social experiment imposed by political leaders and corporations for profit. The city schools are losing students to both charter schools and the suburbs. It is pretty clear that concentration of poverty drives school failure and as long as the US refuses to deal with it and reason that the wealthy deserve their wealth, the problems in schools will continue.

  2. Malgieri, champion of the people in their fight against city employees! Another Duffy appointee who managed to squeeze even more money out of the city by moving over to the school side with it’s much higher pay scales. Just like Budget Bill who nickle and dimed the police and fire departments so he could ‘do the right thing’ and move over to the school district for a fat 5 figure raise.
    These people couldn’t run the city, why allow them to bring their poor skills back? It’s still city tax dollars. Oh…. because they are Party Faithful. They ‘paid their dues’ so they get the nice appointed positions and big pay raises (or bonus’ like Duffy scammed through for appointees).
    People around here don’t get it, one group is deciding your entire life city residents: the Monroe County Democratic Party. I had a sitting Democratic county legislature member explain to me exactly how the local process works, down to the commutes, etc. and it would make Tammany Hall cry foul, but the sheep known as the voting public allow it to continue.
    I’ve spent a fair amount of time in School 25. The majority of it is newer construction than the facade, but it is a nice little school. I don’t know if it is anymore, but until a few years ago it was a designated English As A Second Language school so it’s kids were bussed there from all over the city. A co-worker made the mistake of listing his child as bi-lingual (English as primary language, his wife was bi-lingual) and his kid was immediately placed in 25 School instead of the highly rated school around the corner from his house. His house that he bought to be able to send his kid to that highly rated school in a high property value area of the city. He said it was a disaster getting his kid off the bussing list so they could attend the nearest school. Stop bussing. Then maybe the public will pay attention to the school down the street and not the ‘number’ of it and it will save a lot of fuel costs.
    But thy won’t because people like Budget Bill and Patty paid their dues to a political party and their paycheck matters more than the desires of the voting public. Because the voting public accepts whomever The Party tells them to. Anyone that doesn’t see that as true is willfully ignorant.

  3. It is not about closing schools, and it is not about pouring money of the wealthy into a broken system.

    It is about changing the whole paradigm. Urban children of poverty cannot be isolated in the barriers of de facto segregation where all attempts to have them flourish have failed for decades.

    Let the wealthy pay through their hearts, not their pocketbooks. This requires suburban districts to absorb a “fair share” of children, receiving a proportionate amount of the city school budget. Perhaps a stipend for “host” families” could be offered for urban children to have a family to help them in need, near the school they attend. This is just one idea that may help.

    Most importantly, language skills and speech development must start at birth to avoid developmental lags…and I am a firm believer that reading should not be taught until seven years old, with focus first on speech, story telling, physical and creative activity. These are just some of the paradigms that could be explored.

  4. The district I live in has absorbed it’s fair share via fraudulent enrollments and the conversion of many apartment complexes to Section 8 housing. My district was 2nd to last in the recent rating of county schools (where Rochester took last place in all of upstate). The impact of this has been poor test scores and increased disciplinary problems.
    It is a cultural problem, not a location or wealth issue. Just like being poor doesn’t mean you have to be dirty, being poor doesn’t mean you can’t learn. When you are taught to fail, to blame, to conform to a million negative things that are purely cultural and have nothing to do with wealth or location you will fail, complain, blame, etc. Switch all schools k-12 to local only, no busing at all and watch how when the bully your kid is dealing with in class (who now lives down the street instead of 4 miles away) is dealt with. As I heard in a movie “go back to the beginning”. The simplest explanation (or solution!) is usually the best.

  5. Neighborhood schools are more than buildings in city neighborhoods – they are anchors of stability and could be the centerpiece of redevelopment. Instead, while closing these schools, some of which have suffered from years of deferred maintenance, extremely high rents are paid for space in privately owned buildings to run programs. If that rent money were to be reinvested into the buildings, and the programs shifted into this excess space, there would be no need to close any of these buildings.

    Would maintenance be needed on some? Absolutely. Yes, School 36 is more than 100 years old – but the age of the building is not the relevant factor here- the role of the school in the community and in the lives of children should be the deciding factor.

    Need to save money? Excess space? The district (and city) OWNS these buildings! Invest in them, invest in the children, and STOP investing in privately owned space. To target buildings in the poorest city neighborhoods is to tell the children yet again that they have no value and that the district will not invest in them.

    While I believe that Supt. Vargas is trying to find a solution, I don’t believe that he is looking in the right direction. This city and community needs to strengthen neighborhoods, not to remove the fragile supports that they have. Rather than closing these schools, investments should be made to the buildings, the neighborhoods and especially to the students.

  6. First of all, I am a big fan of stopping busing. I feel that the majority of students in a school should be able to WALK to that school. There are a number of good reasons for this. As mentioned by others, it should (Note I say should, not will) promote community support of the school. If your child was walking to school, you would have a vested interest in improving your neighborhood to keep them safe. It would also cut down on the amount of time a child is “commuting”. Being stuck on a bus for an hour or so after school is no way for a child to spend the afternoon.

    But the fact of the matter is that it is not likely to happen, and what many people don’t seem to realize is that it is not the administrations fault (at least, not entirely). Part of the reason that so many kids bus these days is because their parents WANT them on the buses. Some want it that way to get their kids to the “good” school. Some want their kid on a bus because it is “safer” than walking. Some (yes this is true) want them on the bus so they can have free child care. Because of the pressure from the community, and NCLB mandates, busing has become the way of the present. The administration needs to be able to say enough and do what is right, bot what is popular. But that’s not likely to happen.

    Now, even if we did go back to neighborhood school, the reality is that the district simply has too much space for the current population. The cost of upkeep on the buildings is a drain on the already limited budget. Like in so many other areas, consolidation of services can give a savings the district needs. I would rather see fewer, well maintained schools than what is currently going on with buildings in poor condition, and often feeling like a ghost town due to how few students are there. In this, Vargas is making a good decision, even if it is not popular (and it won’t be).

  7. Two words, neighborhood schools. Saves money on busing. Strengthens neighborhoods. Creates bonds with families etc. That’s what we need.

  8. One thing that is not being mentioned is that this will once again flood the teaching job market. Hundreds of experienced teachers will be out of a job and looking for the minimal teaching jobs that will be available. Most of these people have families and will not be able to relocate. Meanwhile thousands more college graduates will be entering the job market trying to get hired. And a substitute like me will once again not get looked at for a fulltime position.

    Its a neverending cycle of bad to worse for teachers. Obviously if you don’t have the students then you can’t have the teachers but this will be a big hit to the economy with hundreds out of work or taking lower paying jobs and young people leaving the area because there are no jobs.

  9. one big reason why middle class families with kids leave Rochester is because from year to year you never know where the kids will be going to school. The board and administrators/consultants tamper with the facility plan like rich folks tamper with their yachts.

    The CSD has used every lame-brained excuse for moving white kids from the cloistered neighborhoods of Browncroft, Hillside, Park Ave. and parts of Charlotte so they can balance the racial numbers at schools like East High.

    This uncertainy and insanity helps drive families to sacrific and send kids to private schools, move to stable surburban districts or seek out charter schools for temporary relief.

  10. RCSD loses kids every time they close and shuffle schools. The parents of affected kids will be forced to seriously consider options for their kids other than what the district offers children in the closed school or program. Not surprisingly, often times the option will be to move on to a charter, private, or suburban school.

  11. November 2, 2012 at 4:22 pm AnotherThoughtFromaFedUpParent responds:

    Not only are the students of the closed programs and schools affected, but the students and current programs in the buildings they try to move/transition these children to are also affected.

    For example, the last-minute #16 School move had a great negative impact on Montessori Academy also housed at Freddie Thomas. School #16 took away a lot of space and resources that Montessori Academy had patiently waited for and been promised for years. Montessori parents and administrators are not at all pleased with the current “shared” arrangements at the Freddie Thomas campus. It was more like a takeover. The Montessori students, parents, and faculty were excited for their move from the Franklin campus to the Freddie Thomas campus, with plans ready to go for the 2nd floor of the building (made to house two schools — one on the 2nd floor and one on the third floor). Then RCSD board and leaders drop the bomb about #16 School and made the last-minute decision to move this school, too big to fit on one floor (3rd-floor space) of the Freddie Thomas building, into the building and took away a lot of Montessori Academy’s space and building resources. District leaders seem to have ignored the Montessori Academy Parents’ concerns. Here you have one of the school gems of the RCSD willingly taking on Freddie Thomas’ school designation to get a better facility and resources, knowing with their scores they can easily get rid of the negative designation, then you take away a large amount of their promised space and resources. That’s another great way for the district to lose families.

  12. Many are complaining about closing schools. With a loss in student enrollment do we keep schools open when they are at 50-75% capacity? It’s a waste of money. Paying utility bills, busing to schools far away for the kid’s home, are wastes of money. Wake up folks.Consolidate and the create neighborhood schools.

  13. Rent/sell the space to the charter schools that are looking for more space. Problem fixes itself, with enrollment down its silly the RCSD keeps finding ways to blow money while poorly preparing students, lining the pockets of admins and contractor friends, all the while blaming hard working teachers.

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