Although he observed it does have some issues including repair needs, the chair of the Assembly Committee on Education was impressed with Rome Free Academy during his visit to the area Friday.
Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, D-82, Bronx, said following a tour of RFA that “as soon as I walked in the building,” he was “totally awed” and added it was “like a lobby area from the Trump Hotel....There’s nothing we see this spacious” in his district.
Calling his tour “wonderfully informative and impressive” after entering the RFA library for a working lunch session that included several area school district superintendents, Benedetto quipped he would like to “try to transport a school like this back to the Bronx” but would be unable to “find land for it.”
Benedetto also said he was impressed with RFA students after observing several during a lunch period, noting their conversations and that everybody seemed to be in regular harmony which is “encouraging to see.”
RFA overall is “a great facility...but not without its problems,” commented Benedetto. After saying school district Superintendent Peter C. Blake informed him of some state-level actions that might be of help, Benedetto also mentioned “needed repairs.” Benedetto, who became Assembly Committee on Education chair at the start of the year, said of his Assembly work, “we try to be intermediaries with the state Education Department” and “help in those areas as much as possible.” Repairs planned at RFA are part of the Rome school district’s $14.2 million bonding referendum vote that will seek public approval on Dec. 18.
Statewide and local education issues including the state’s foundation aid formula for providing funding to schools were among the topics at Benedetto’s area appearance, coordinated through Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon, D-119, Marcy. Besides RFA, Bendetto’s destinations included a visit to Staley Elementary School and a discussion with Utica school district Superintendent Bruce Karam about how that district is meeting challenges and how the state including the Assembly can assist.
Rome Mayor Jacqueline M. Izzo, present for the start of the RFA working lunch session, drew chuckles when she told Benedetto he picked a “great day” for his visit, with “water everywhere” in referring to heavy rain that had hit. Their conversation mentioned Benedetto seeing Staley, which he said was a beautiful facility but “unfortunately...a bad location.” Staley, at 620 E. Bloomfield St. near the Mohawk River, has issues including moisture-related concerns with air quality and ventilation; the school district has been discussing a possible plan to replace it by reopening and expanding the former Clough school site on Bell Road.
Among others at the lunch session were Buttenschon, Blake, state Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-47, Rome, plus school superintendents from the Camden, Holland Patent, Westmoreland, New York Mills, and Waterville districts as well as Oneida-Herkimer-Madison BOCES.
The general purpose of his visit, said Benedetto, included “how we as a state relate to local districts...how we can work with them” and help to “solve their problems.” He added he wants to “hear suggestions from people” that “should be entered into the dialogue” for addressing matters at the state level.