ROCHESTER — Superintendent Bolgen Vargas’ $728-million budget proposal closes a $50-million gap while expanding student offerings to include more arts, music and sports options.
During a March 25 presentation, Vargas said that he was able to close the gap through expected reductions in pension costs, reducing the number of teachers on special assignment, using $6.2 million from the district’s fund balance, such cost efficiencies as program consolidations, and redesigns of the in-school suspension and special-education delivery models.
"This budget is about increasing services to our students and classes as much as about meeting the (financial) challenges," he said. "We are taking a fresh look at how we deliver services to our students."
Such an approach is vital because families have been leaving the district in droves to enroll their children in charter schools, Vargas acknowledged. Next year, the district expects to lose an additional 900 students, he said. The trend is one seen in urban districts around the country, he said, noting that Buffalo has been forced to close as many as 12 schools in recent years.
To stem such population losses, Vargas proposed adding arts and sports programs, boosting instructional time, reducing class sizes by returning teachers on special assignment to classrooms and offering more Advanced Placement courses.
"Our schools need to be more interesting than the streets," he remarked. "And sports can be a gateway to academic success … and can be part of our way to improve student achievement."
The district also plans a marketing campaign, initially targeting its own employees, to attract more suburban students to become part of the urban-suburban program, Vargas added.
School board members Melisza Campos and José Cruz said their initial impressions of the proposal are positive.
Campos said that she appreciates how Vargas and his staff incorporated recommendations made during community forums held over the past few weeks, such as returning to a neighborhood school model wherever possible.
"It includes a lot of things we’ve talked about," she said, holding the large budget binder. "Now, it’s a matter of digging in."
EDITOR’S NOTE: Budget hearings and deliberations will be held through the end of April. For more information, visit http://rcsdk12.org/Page/2.