BY TIM LOUIS MACALUSO
Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas says he hired Patricia Malgieri because of what he’s heard from parents almost daily during the last year.
“They’re saying their children have less opportunity today than they did a decade ago,” he says. “It saddens me daily that we have thousands of children who have difficulty even getting into a two-year college. Yes, we have kids who go on to Harvard and Cornell. But too many won’t have that opportunity unless we change what we’re doing.”
Malgieri was Rochester’s deputy mayor under Bob Duffy when Duffy pushed for mayoral control of the school district. Vargas has hired her to be his chief of staff.
In an interview yesterday, Vargas was a bit punchy, like a kid who just totaled his father’s brand new Audi. And he joked a little about a special school board meeting tonight in which board members may confront Vargas over the Malgieri hire.
The meeting is at 6 p.m. at the district’s central office at 131 West Broad Street.
The board cannot dictate the superintendent’s cabinet-level appointments, but board members do hold the purse strings. Vargas has signed a four-year contract with Malgieri with a starting annual salary of $155,000 annually. When asked if he was worried the board may withhold the funds to pay Malgieri, Vargas said the decision was his alone to make.
“I don’t consider it a threat to me, but it’s a threat to much-needed change in this district,” he said. “And I hope that’s why they hired me.”
Malgieri has been a vocal critic of the district and the board. Her strong support of the Duffy administration’s push for mayoral control is not a distant memory for most board members. She now has to work with elected officials who would have likely seen their positions eliminated if mayoral control had become law in Rochester. Some of Vargas’s biggest supporters now openly question his judgment and loyalty.
But Vargas seemed prepared for tonight’s meeting, and he downplayed the fuss over his decision to hire Malgieri. He says he planned to inform board members by talking to them individually, but those plans changed when the news was leaked to the media.
And Vargas views Malgieri, whom he says he has known for about 20 years, as part of his plan to assemble the best team possible to meet the challenges the district is facing. If there was sending any message to board members and parents, he said it was that there were no “special deals” made for political purposes.
“I hired her for the special talent she possesses,” he said. “She has an extraordinary talent for analyzing data, which we need to help us address the significant challenges we have in properly allocating our resources.”
While Malgieri will be heavily involved in the daily operations of the district, and on specific problems such as improving attendance, Vargas said he cannot achieve his goals unless inefficiencies are squeezed out of the district.
“People always say we don’t offer something because we don’t have the resources, but that’s not true,” he said. “If she [Malgieri] can help me save enough money to provide more art, music, and sports to our children, we achieved something here.”
Vargas said the district is losing its student population because it has failed to make education more interesting than the street.
“We have a culture where we spend our money on retention of kids, when we need to be spending what we have on prevention and not intervention,” he said.
Malgieri agreed with that assessment in a phone interview today. She said she’s joining the district to help make attending the city school district an excellent experience for both parents and students. Doing so will help give parents a reason to stay in the city instead of pursuing other educational options when their children become school age.
Finding operational efficiencies has been a hallmark of her career in several positions, she said.
When asked about her past criticism of the district and her support of mayoral control, she would only say that she will support the superintendent’s priorities.
Malgieri is part of what Vargas is calling his new leadership team, which also includes William Ansbrow as chief financial officer for the district; Beverly Burrell-Moore, deputy superintendent for teaching and learning; and Anita Murphy, deputy superintendent of administration and operations.
Ansbrow is a long-time public employee, most recently working as the city’s budget director. Burrell-Moore is a city school graduate and has been a teacher and a principal. She was an administrator with the Rush-Henrietta Central School District.
Murphy joins the district after serving as the state’s associate commissioner of education for curriculum, instruction, and field services.
Burrell-Moore and Murphy have already started working with the district, and Ansbrow and Malgieri will join later this month. Malgieri said she will continue working in her current position as president of the Hillside Work Scholarship Connection until Friday, August 24, and start with the district on Monday, August 27.