NEWS BLOG: Do you take this chief of staff for better, for worse?

BY TIM LOUIS MACALUSO

Rochester school board members who are upset that Superintendent Bolgen Vargas hired a district critic still haven’t been able to meet with her.

The board’s staff tried to coordinate some meetings with Vargas’s new chief of staff, Patty Malgieri, to discuss her role and her criticism of the district when she was deputy mayor. Malgieri responded, however, that she’ll schedule her meetings with board members herself.

Some board members are still trying to decide what to do about Malgieri, and Vargas, too, for hiring her. There may even be some more fireworks at next Thursday’s monthly board meeting. But frankly, the dust-up is probably over for now. The board has no way of blocking Malgieri from joining the district, and there isn’t much they can do to Vargas, either.

It seems that they’re stuck with one another, like it or not.

The future could go in a few different ways. Even with a hired gun like Malgieri, the district’s problems could remain stubbornly entrenched. If Rochester’s graduation rate is still hovering around 50 percent two years from now, Vargas may not fulfill his four-year contract.

Malgieri and some of her supporters at City Hall and in the business community may learn that the city and school district have different challenges. A broken sewer line can be repaired in a few days, but large numbers of children going to school stressed, tired, and hungry can’t be fixed quickly or easily.

Another possibility: Malgieri, seeing the district operate from the inside, may be even more convinced that a change in governance is needed. And if the winds of mayoral control stir again, she may be better able to make the case for approving the legislation that would put the district under the mayor’s thumb.

The third possibility is that Malgieri helps Vargas meet the challenges he’s facing. This superintendent needs help, and Malgieri’s operational skills might be exactly what he needs. How can he improve the district’s graduation rate when thousands of kids aren’t even going to school?

How can the district be effective if the data collected daily is bogged down in inefficiencies and is never used by teachers and administrators? And how is Vargas going to fund extended school hours and the music, art, and physical education programs he wants when student enrollment is declining? State funding is bound to decline with fewer students.

And Vargas is facing other serious concerns, such as school closings, new teacher evaluations, and school modernization.

If Malgieri can help him confront these issues successfully, not only will Vargas look good, but ironically, so will the school board.

Superintendent Bolgen Vargas. FILE PHOTO

6 comments

  1. Sam Brown · · Reply

    How can the district be effective if the data collected daily is bogged down in inefficiencies and is never used by teachers and administrators? And how is Vargas going to fund extended school hours and the music, art, and physical education programs he wants when student enrollment is declining? Good questions…

  2. Rick Worner · · Reply

    Don’t underestimate Dr. Vargas. He has a comprehensive plan and sincere desire to improve RSCD.

  3. If we were foolish enough to believe everything in the article above — we would think that the Rochester City School District can stop waiting for superwoman — because she has arrived. Please —give me a break. The Board of Education’s worst nightmare, which just may come true, is that: “Malgieri, seeing the district operate from the inside, may be even more convinced that a change in governance is needed. And if the winds of mayoral control stir again, she may be better able to make the case for approving the legislation that would put the district under the mayor’s thumb.” If the nightmare does materialize — the Board gets exactly what it deserves, but again, as always — our children and families will lose, and will continue to suffer the most. My only question for the Community is — when will we get our pitchforks? If not now — when??!!

    Howard J. Eagle

  4. goodgov · · Reply

    While I’m not in favor of mayoral control, the current state of affairs seems to constitute the true “nightmare” for city students.

  5. Tom Brennan · · Reply

    I hesitate to publicly criticize the city school board, some of whom are former colleagues. I have sympathy for the difficulties of board service. I know that much of what is asserted and reported about them in Rochester is deliberately incomplete or incorrect, and rooted in motives that have nothing to do with the well being of children.

    If the report about Malgieri declining to cooperate with board staff is correct, and if board staff acted under board instruction to coordinate board meetings with Malgieri, then Vargas should be informed by the board that he is to direct his staff to cooperate with board staff in establishing these meetings, or the superintedent will be considered insubordinate. There is no excuse for this situation. Apart from politics, or the merit of mayoral control, board failure to properly establish itself in authority, under the governance system we now have, betrays the public and shreds the integrity of the institution they are stewards of. This is a Truman/MacArthur moment.

    The context of this is disturbing. The Vargas appointment as superintendent was inexplicable. A middle school guidence counsellor to run the third largest city school district in New York State? He was not qualified by any professional standard. Vargas is a very kindly man. He has political credentials, as an asleep-at-the-switch board president from the Golden Age of Clifford Janey, and an obedient servant of an entrenched political oligarchy, whose failures land at the doorstep of the schools, and whose endless political game playing with the schools prevent a focus on children..

    Vargas promised the public he would not seek the permanent appointment, then broke his word. Bob Duffy promised he would not support replacing elected school boards with back room City Hall appointments. He was indignant to even be asked. Weeks after making it safely through the election, he broke his word. Here is a thought. When are we going to start holding high city officials accountable for lying to us?

    The Malgieri appointment confirmed every misgiving about the Vargas appointment. Ms. Malgieri is very smart, and perfectly nice, but she has been the point person on education issues for a City Hall administration whose dishonesty and bad faith about such is manifest.

    To call Malgieri a mere “critic” of the district is equally dishonest. Her so called “interest in education issues” would be more accurately described as personal axe grinding, and self serving careerism, which reflects contempt for the democratic rights and dignity of those the city schools most urgently need to engage–, all hitched to Broad Academy quackery (including mayoral control) which has failed to improve student performance anywhere it has been imposed.

    How are we to regard the Malgieri appointment as anything but a provocation, an expression of contempt by Vargas, directed at the board that just appointed Vargas, and perhaps the public that elected that board? Mitch McConnell famously said partisan political advantage was a higher priority than the national interest in the current national crisis. We rightly view that with contempt. How are we to view those so politically invested in board failure that the young lives blighted by this wrong focus are overlooked?

    It is particularly sad that we have a strain of community leaders who seek to change public policy, not by free exchange of ideas, but by the smothering of alternative voices, by the lie, the sucker punch, and the double cross.

    What can we do?

    First, the public has to pay better attention to which public officials and editorial voices are behaving how. This will require a rethinking of some of the cults of personality that characterize Rochester civic life. Since there is no evidence abolishment of school board elections improve anything, Rochester might consider more vigorous competition at the state legislature and city hall level (a rarity now).

    In 2007, I asked board colleagues to join me in making a priority of repeal of the Gantt/Alesi law. No takers.This was a special 1997 law, Assemblyman Dave Gantt’s effort to get the board out of Supt. Cliff Janey’s business, creating a special protected class of school district bureaucrat which the board could not dismiss. Of course this group quickly grew in size and cost, Janey appointed a CFO, who crashed RCSD finances. Other absurdites flowed from this concept, including the current situation. Note to ex colleagues: Any takers now?

    Finally, we need to shake up the school board, who, after all, just appointed Vargas, with stern governance reform. In the 1970s, Rochester elected its school boards on a nonpartisan basis. The suburbs always have. Many cities use this model. In a one party city, this attracts broader participation, and puts the focus on education issues, not internal party power struggles.

    Every time I think it can’t worse in the RCSD, it does. It is to weep.

    Tom Brennan

  6. annonymous · · Reply

    I have not always agreed with Mr. Brennan in the past but could not agree more with his comments here.

    I do not understand the actions of those in power in this situation – on either side of the equation.

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