Friday, August 17, 2012

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

Posted By on Fri, Aug 17, 2012 at 12:23 PM

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.

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