Heather Hare. Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. 3/30/2005.

A loss for charter schools in Rochester is a gain for the City School District.


With two charter schools scheduled to close in June because of poor academic performance, more than 1,000 students are expected to return to district schools — and with them will come about $16.5 million in aid.


That money enabled Superintendent Manuel Rivera to avoid recommending drastic program cuts in the 2005-06 budget he submitted Tuesday night to the school board.


As it is, the proposed $575 million budget is $9 million smaller than the current year's plan because of projected reductions in federal and state aid.


The charter school money also will help the district avert a budget gap after several years of shortfalls that led to a crisis atmosphere surrounding the budget each spring. However, district officials warned of the possibility of gaps in future years.


"The district was able to escape a year of devastating cuts primarily because of two charter schools closing this year," said Henry Marini, chief executive officer for business services. "If the charter schools did not close, that $16.5 million would have to be cut."


The net gain for the district resulting from the closing of the Charter School of Science and Technology and the Rochester Leadership Academy was put at $12.5 million. Part of the $4 million difference will be used to pay for new teachers needed because of the return of the charter students.


Rivera did not avoid cuts entirely. He proposed eliminating the Montessori program that serves about 150 students in kindergarten through sixth grade on the Franklin campus on Norton Street.


Montessori classes are grouped in two- to three-year spans and students work at their ability level rather than their grade level.


Rivera called the program good but costly and said its elimination would save $720,000.


"That school has not met some of the expectations and goals set a number of years ago," he said. "Those students could be served well in other elementary schools."


He recommended operating a half-day Montessori program for current 3-year-olds who would remain in the program as 4-year-olds in 2005-06. The money would come from the state's pre-kindergarten program.


The budget includes savings of $1.2 million from the closing in June of School 37 and the School 22 annex, which the school board approved four weeks ago despite heated protests from parents and staff at the schools.


Rivera also recommended cutting six positions at the district office, saving $782,000, and a total of almost 90 positions districtwide. He said most of the jobs would be eliminated through attrition, not layoffs.


John Pavone, treasurer of the Rochester Teachers Association, said the union needs to examine the proposed position cuts. But he said he was optimistic that the impact on employees will be minimal.


The budget includes increases to schools affected by the district's revamping of its secondary schools. The district is doing away with middle schools and transforming its high schools into seventh-through-12th-grade buildings.


In addition to increases in sports and physical education programs at those schools, Rivera recommended hiring more than 20 teachers to address increased enrollment.


He also proposed increasing the security and custodial staffs and reinstating summer school for students in grades 7 through 9.


"Last year, when the city cut us $7 million, summer school had to be cut," Rivera said, referring to a decrease in city aid to the schools in 2004-05. "That was devastating."


Marini said that although the proposed budget doesn't have a gap, there will be gaps in the future. He estimated the shortfalls at $25 million in 2006-07 and $45 million by 2008-09.


Rivera said the state's funding of schools needs to be overhauled. He cited the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, an organization that won a landmark lawsuit against the state for inadequately funding New York City schools. One CFE proposal would bring more than $200 million in additional state aid to Rochester schools.


The state Legislature is expected to pass an education spending plan Thursday, but without the kind of increases proposed by CFE and other advocacy groups.


"The state has got to revisit this school funding issue," Rivera said. "There is still not equity."


The school board is expected to hold two public hearings and several meetings about the budget before it votes May 12. City Council then must approve the budget.