Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas was in Albany yesterday responding to Governor Cuomo’s proposed budget and urging lawmakers to increase funding for the Rochester school district, the lowest performing of the state's Big Five school systems.
Vargas wants more funding to meet a district goal of getting 90 percent of city third-graders to read at grade level — that number is currently about 30 percent. Vargas sees reading proficiency as the foundation for learning and one of the main reasons many city students score poorly on tests and often don’t finish school.
He also wants Cuomo to increase the proposed $20 million in funding for expanded learning. Vargas said city students can reach the state’s higher achievement standards, but they need more time. And teachers, he said, need more professional development.
And Vargas wants the state to fund full-day kindergarten. Attendance in kindergarten is now a legal requirement for Rochester’s children, but the state only funds a half-day, with the district funding the other half. If the state could fund the whole day, Vargas said, the district would be able to employ about 60 reading teachers for all grade levels.
Vargas also talked about the need for a more flexible transportation policy. If the district could bus students who live closer than 1.5 miles — the current threshold for busing — it would encourage more families to choose neighborhood schools, he said.
Speaking before the New York Senate Finance Committee, Assembly Ways and Means Committee, Senate Education Committee, and the Assembly Education Committee, Vargas said most of his funding recommendations align closely with the governor's own proposals.