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East High plan & school budget pass

Rochester, N.Y. -- The Rochester City School Board made a decision about the future of East High School Thursday night. School board members want the University of Rochester to take over the school and act as an educational partnership organization beginning in the 2015-16 school year.

At the budget vote Thursday night, the board passed a resolution that stated the proposal from the University of Rochester to be the school's EPO is in the best interested of students, staff and community. It's now the only plan that the board intends to pursue at this time.

"The U of R is a strong university," said Rochester City School Superintendent Bolgen Vargas. "It has an incredible reputation, also a lot of talented people and they could help the district."

The university is still working on a plan for East High, and with the state's deadline a week away, the district has asked the State Education Department to push that deadline back to July 1.

"The bottom line is that we have to improve, and I think that everyone has to take part in making it better, including us alumni, so that's why I'm here," said Roland Williams, an East High grad.

The former NFL player took the redeye in from his home in Los Angeles to attend to the meeting.

"If I don't come back, who should I expect to?" Williams said. "I'm going to make it my business to be more here in Rochester and help mentor these young men."

Williams announced he will come in to be a consultant for all of the district's football teams. A portion of the $550,000 increase for the athletic program in the district's proposed budget would to be pay for his services. But before the board voted, that increased was amended, and dropped down to $250,000.

The school board doesn't know if, or how much, Williams will be paid for his services. The former Super Bowl champion tight end said they'll figure something out, as long as his travel expenses are covered.

"When we spend $1 or we spend $1 million, or when we buy a textbook, or when we buy sporting equipment, we've got to keep in mind that it's about our children," Vargas said.

Unanimously, the school board passed the roughly $788 million budget that board President Van White said addresses specific issues the board believes will make a difference. Reading is the district's biggest challenge, and Vargas said it directly related to low graduation rates. Vargas said a lot of dollars are going toward reading, including a new summer reading programs for students in kindergarten through third grade.

"Everybody in this community will have to play a part," Vargas said. "Budget doesn't solve problems. We're going to have to find ways to get families engaged."

More extracurricular activities and improved sports programs are also investments that the board hopes will engage students year-round to increase the graduation rate.

"Football changed my life," Williams said. "It saved my life. It gave me vehicles that I'm still using to this day. So I want to come back to help young men realize it's just one more thing the district has to offer. It's an oasis. Football helps."

Rochester City Council will vote on the district's 2014-15 budget in June.

 
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