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Update: City School Supt. Vargas on closing 8 schools: "We have too much space"

Posted at: 11/02/2012 1:13 PM
Updated at: 11/02/2012 5:59 PM

News10NBC is spoke with Rochester City School Superintendent Bolgen Vargas just before he talks with the staff and teachers at one of the school picked to be "retired" over the next several years.

"This building for instance is approaching over 100 years old. We have too much space," Vargas said just before walking into School 36 to meet with teachers.

In fact -- School 36 was built 1888. It's one of the oldest school buildings in the city.

But it's not just an age issue. It's enrollment that's causing the city to think seriously about closing eight of its schools.

"Every single dollar we invest in (an old) building we are compromising are services for our children,' Vargas said.

"I was just telling them in there I don't want it to close. It's like why close it? Fix it up," Bonnie Smith said.

No one can blame Bonnie Smith for the way she feels. Generations of her family have a connection to the bricks and mortar.

"My grandparents came here, my grandmother came here, my kids came here, I came here, my uncle came here and now my grandson is here," she told us.

But Smith's grandson will almost be a high school grad by the time this school building would shut down. In fact all eight of the schools selected in the draft report would lock up sometime over the next decade, not now.

"At the end of the day we will have better facilities and better services for students. That is the goal here,' Vargas said.

The task force's final draft says "Due to the construction type, degree of infrastructure modernization and site limitations, the District should consider discontinuing the use of the following facilities for school programs: #10, 16, 22, 25, 36, 43, 44, and 54."

The report does say "no evaluation has been made by the FMTF regarding the quality and efficacy of school programs."

Here is the story that News10NBC reported after last night's school board meeting

Faced with declining enrollment and too much space, Rochester City School District Superintendent Dr. Bolgen Vargas says it makes sense for the district to look at ways to cut costs and improve efficiency. The superintendent is proposing a $625 million dollar master plan that aims to put more money into the classroom rather than aging buildings.

Thursday Night, Vargas presented an overview of the master plan, preferring not to give too many specific details until he's had the opportunity to talk with the community, especially since it could mean closing some schools.  He is recommending the closure of 5 school buildings. The master plan calls for as many as 8.

Vargas isn't wasting any time though. He says he will begin talking with parents, educators and students on Friday morning. He will pitch the district's master plan that could, over 10 years, change the configuration of the district.

"It's extremely important that the community plays a role on the discussion," says Vargas. "After all, these are their buildings, this is not the superintendent's schools. The schools belong to the community and the families."

Vargas wants people to remember this is about better educating children.  He says the district needs more modern facilities to do that. School Board President Malik Evans says closing schools will not be easy, but it may be necessary.

"I think the tough part for us is how we do prioritize and decide which school will be closed," says Evans. "Neighborhood impact is important, the performance of schools is something to me. Looking at that in terms of school closure but again it's something the board will be discussing over the next three months."

The schools that could be affected include Dr. Walter Cooper Academy (no. 10), John Walton Spencer (no. 16), Lincoln (no. 22), Nathaniel Hawthorne (no. 25), and Henry W. Longfellow (no. 36).