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Talks may decide Vargas's future 

It's been more than a month since Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas filed a notice of claim against the Rochester school board -- a precursor to potential litigation.

Though both sides are talking, it's still unclear whether Vargas and the board will recover from this dispute, or if Vargas will even fulfill his contract with the school district, which expires in June 2016.

click to enlarge Bolgen Vargas - FILE PHOTO
  • Bolgen Vargas

"We are taking steps to resolve it," says Vargas's attorney, Steve Modica. "We haven't reached a resolution, but we are talking." The resolution would have to be amicable to both sides, he says.

"What that would look like, whether he would stay, whether he'd go -- or anything in between -- none of that has been decided," Modica says.

Vargas filed the notice of claim in early March after the board passed legislation which board members say is intended to bring the superintendent's authority into compliance with state education law. Over the years and after a succession of superintendents, that authority ballooned, they say.

The legislation also sought clarification over who can be in the Superintendent's Employee Group. The nonunion, senior-level management team has about 31 members who report to the superintendent.

Vargas responded by threatening to sue the board, alleging that his contract has been violated, and that it's the board that is out of step with state law.

Some board members say that they don't want Vargas to leave before his contract expires, and especially before the 2015-2016 budget is finalized. And they say that they still hold out hope that the situation can be resolved, although that won't be easy.

"He staked a claim that is very difficult to back away from," says longtime board member Willa Powell. "We took a very researched position. The superintendent's pushback on that presupposed that we didn't know what we were talking about."

But Powell says that she doesn't want to go through another superintendent search. The situation is a bit like a family squabble, she says, where emotions run high and feelings get hurt.

"All of us can get over that, as long as he recognizes the board's authority," she says.

But that authority -- specifically, the roles of the board and superintendent -- often becomes more about adults' issues rather than concern for children, says Rob Brown, an attorney and former member of the city school board. He says that the board is trying to aggrandize its role.

"The board's interfering in the SEG is not helping the children," Brown says. "It's a fundamental misunderstanding of organizational management."

Though Vargas declined to comment on the status of his notice of claim, his attorney says that no deadlines have passed for taking legal action, and that a suit isn't off the table.

"If we don't have a resolution relatively soon, then the only option would be to litigate," Modica says.

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