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Bolgen VargasBolgen Vargas was seen as the savior.

The district’s spirit was broken back in the spring of 2011. Outgoing Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard had created chaos and ill will. There was a massive budget deficit and threats of hundreds of layoffs and program cuts.
Vargas was brought in to heal the wounds.

Astoundingly, no one raised a stink that a suburban guidance counselor was picked behind closed doors to head the third-largest district in the state. Though Vargas got the job because of his political connections, everyone agreed he’s a “good man” and a “nice guy.” Vargas seemed to be what the district needed at that moment.
As interim superintendent, he healed the wounds and redirected focus to education.

But when he got the permanent job, there were signs of trouble. Vargas couldn’t retain key people in his cabinet. He lost the support of administrators, who complained his expectations were always changing. He began to lose the support of teachers, who saw the climate in their schools and classrooms continue to deteriorate.

A good leader has to have followers.

Vargas made a series of decisions that angered his board, starting with his immediate hire of Patricia Malgieri as his right hand. (She was pro-mayoral control under former Mayor Bob Duffy.) There were other questionable moves, including the shuffling of principals, the inexplicable downfall of Northeast/Northwest, the dismantling of the Boys Academy and the special education “consultation” model.

It turned out, Vargas, who had never served as an administrator, wasn’t a great manager. His style was more autocratic than inclusive. That angered just about everyone who worked under him. The internal strife remained below the radar until Vargas filed a lawsuit against the board after they checked his power. It was clear the end of his tenure was near.

None of this should be a surprise to those who remember Vargas from his days on the school board.

Vargas had a model for his perfect superintendent: Clifford Janey. When Vargas was on the school board, he was a huge champion of the district’s former leader. Janey believed in a very strong superintendent and hands-off board. Assemblyman David Gantt got a law passed giving Janey and his successors more power. (Vargas had that law in mind when he sued his board.)

Until the bitter end of Janey’s tenure, Vargas was a Janey apologist and supporter, despite Janey’s horrible financial management skills and lack of transparency. Vargas helped orchestrate Janey’s resignation and large contract buyout. The deal was meant to allow Janey to save face, but the opposite happened. The board announced Janey’s resignation at a packed board meeting, prompting cheers from the crowd.

Vargas’ desire for Janey-like power and his dislike of scrutiny led to his quiet downfall. His internal problems stayed mostly under the radar, thanks to a school board that kept its exasperation to itself. The public never knew how bad things were behind the scenes.

The tragedy of Bolgen Vargas came to an end Tuesday at an awkward press conference, in which no one wanted to admit what was really going on. Vargas did learn one lesson from the Janey ordeal: Get out before they push you out in a much less graceful manner.

Bolgen VargasRochester Superintendent Bolgen Vargas has a short memory.

He plans to sue the school board over its vote to strip him of some hiring and firing powers related to the Superintendent Employee Group. This group is made up of highly-paid at will managers, including deputy superintendents, numerous chiefs and a few confidential secretaries. The SEG is also known as the “cabinet.”

Here’s why we care about SEG. These are the folks running the district. The payroll for this group exceeds $3 million, not including benefits. There have been numerous abuses by superintendents of this classification.  Under former superintendent Clifford Janey, SEG members were given golden parachutes. Under former superintendent Manny Rivera, SEG members got secret side deals in which taxpayers paid for their PhD’s, with no requirement they continue to work for the district. Under Brizard, the SEG had a record payroll and open records showed he gave SEG members large raises, including a $10,000 one for his secretary. Under Vargas, some SEG members were given secret contracts guaranteeing salary, no matter the performance.

Under a state law championed by Assemblyman David Gantt to shield Janey from a meddling school board, superintendents have the right to choose their cabinets. This law had an unintended consequence. It’s been used by RCSD superintendents to making quiet and dubious decisions. The board only has the power over the budget line and job titles – and history shows the media often has to tell the board what’s going on with SEG.

Right now, there are 32 members of this group. That’s down from the days when it exceeded 50. Former interim superintendent Bill Cala got it under 30, but his successor, Jean-Claude Brizard increased the ranks to more than 40.

Board member Willa Powell said the major reason the board has concerns with Vargas and his cabinet is turnover. Vargas fires people and other people leave. It’s a revolving door. Here’s the short list of people who have left in the past few years: Beth Mascitti-Miller, Shaun Nelms, Anita Murphy, Tom Petronio, Kim Dyce, Jeanette Silvers, Anne Brown, Jamie Warren, Jim Fenton, John Scanlon, Laura Kelley, Leslie Boozer, Bethany Centrone, Jackie Polito and Gladys Pedraza.

Fights between the board and the superintendent over the size and makeup of SEG are not new. This comes up every few years. But Vargas’ decision to sue the board is shocking for one reason. The board easily kick him to the curb and buy out his contract tomorrow.

Vargas should know. He was on the school board that bought out Janey.

 

CLEAR THE SIDEWALKS:

 

The City of Rochester does zero enforcement of the code saying property owners have to clear their own sidewalks. Meanwhile, New York City issues thousands of tickets.

 

 

 

RCSD LOGOToday, all heck broke loose at Northeast College Preparatory and Northwest College Preparatory high schools, which share the old Frederick Douglass High School building. (The names of those schools, which have nothing at all to do with places on a map, have always irked me.)

These schools were started in 2006 and partnered with the College Board. They have smaller enrollment, about 500 each, and higher graduation rates of around 75 percent in 2012. They were touted as places where kids beat the odds, graduate and go onto college.

Last school year, Superintendent Bolgen Vargas announced a Wegmans executive would conduct an experiment of sorts at Northeast. The school would have an extended day, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Students would eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at school. They would be able to take all kinds of classes administered by community volunteers. They would get to learn yoga, or take cooking and dance classes. This intense focus was to ensure no kid was lost and the opportunity gap would be closed.

But the project didn’t work out. Parents and kids didn’t buy in. You can’t leave volunteers alone with students. The whole thing was rushed. School now ends at 3:45 p.m., according to the district website. It also appears the College Board is no longer an integral part of Northeast or Northwest.

Now the schools are battling a chaotic environment, and reports indicate today wasn’t an isolated incident. Maybe there’s still awesome work happening in this building, but enough has happened to take the shine off. We will be watching to see if the early promise has been sustained.

Something else happened today. The district announced it studied Edison Tech’s multiple schools and found them lacking. Edison was broken up into smaller schools by former superintendent Manuel Rivera 10 years ago. Less than a decade later, Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard began phasing out schools at Edison and adding others. Today’s report found all the rejiggering made no difference. Kids are not getting ready for college or anything else. The district wants to make Edison one school, with a career and technology focus. Perhaps BOCES will take over.

No discussion of school reinventions is complete without mentioning Franklin High School. Former superintendent Clifford Janey created multiple schools on the campus. They were also deemed unsuccessful and are being phased out.

Faced with terrible results, the district is not afraid of trying new things. Vargas opened All City High School and then cut its budget in half in the space of one year. The superintendent even wants to turn over some schools to colleges.

Meantime, a whole bunch of charter schools are coming to town, ready to try their own version of something new.

All of these experiments are costing taxpayers millions of dollars.

Former Mayor Tom Richards used to lament all the new programs coming and going in our schools:

“We must be dependable and stable—like adults are supposed to be. Our children must be able to depend on us. At its most fundamental level, this need for dependability—for stability—should not be overcome by some debate over educational philosophy. Or by which group of adults gets to decide which philosophy is correct. It means that we pick some fundamental programs and approaches and that we stick to them.”

Update: Here’s what RPD said happened. Took them 24 hours to respond and it’s far more detailed than what district put out there.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– It is astounding and disturbing that the state budget director had no idea so many people live in poverty in Rochester. The state seems clueless when it comes to the plight of cities.

– COMIDA does most of its work behind the scenes. When it’s time for the board to vote, decisions have already been made.

– I did an interview today with the City of Rochester’s transportation specialist about bicycle boulevards.

– The governor created a board to look into the possibility of a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills. That is causing speculation over the Bills’ future.

– Did the police really need to read Philip Seymour Hoffman’s diaryand then go blabbing about it?

– I LOVE this column about the ridiculous hysteria surrounding the sleepwalking man statue.

Notice any changes in Wegmans Chinese food?

 

Tweet of the Day:

 

Rochester City School Superintendent Bolgen Vargas announced he wants to close five schools. The plan comes soon after Vargas hired former deputy mayor Patricia Malgieri, who once wrote up a plan to consolidate schools when she worked for Center for Governmental Research, as his assistant.

The schools on the list have been targeted in the past: #10, #16, #22, #25, and #36. With the exception of #10, they’re in the poorest neighborhoods in the city and have terrible test results. The district closed #10 before – when it was #37 – but in true RCSD fashion, couldn’t resist opening it back up. School #10’s program would be moved to another building.

There’s no doubt the district has to consolidate space, with enrollment declining by more than 5,000 students over the last decade, according to the Democrat and Chronicle. Over the last decade, the district has not done a good job consolidating space, frequently backing off closure plans in the face of community protest.

It’s troubling so many students have been disrupted in recent years. The district has closed failing schools and reopened them as something else, a model Vargas says no longer works. The district has also temporarily relocated hundreds of students as their buildings are renovated.

One could argue it’s the program that matters, not the physical space. But I disagree. School buildings are important anchors in neighborhoods. The schools targeted for closure are beautiful old buildings, with natural wood everywhere, built in shelves, glass cases, and wood floors. Why is it schools are never part of the historic preservation debate in Rochester?

It sounds like the district is trying to include the stakeholders in the decision-making, by scheduling a number of meetings. It will be interesting to see if this sparks major controversy.

Read the decision matrix to close schools. 

Update: The district posted this much simpler document.

“SEG is a mess,” School Board President Malik Evans said today.

The Superintendent Employee Group, known as the cabinet, has been a mess for more than a decade. You can thank David Gantt for helping to push through legislation intended to aid former superintendent Clifford Janey. The law says the Rochester school superintendent has the authority to appoint his cabinet and set their salaries. The school board only has control over the cabinet budget and position titles.

In other words, the board’s power is very limited.

Every superintendent since the law was passed has been caught giving raises and perks that may not have seen the light of day if not for diligent board members and reporters.

Evans said it’s time for the law to be repealed. Exhibit A: The side deals Superintendent Bolgen Vargas awarded to four recent hires. My report today on 13WHAM has details:

Deputy Superintendents Anita Murphy and Beverly Burrell-Moore will each earn $160,000. They are guaranteed the first two years of their salaries, even if they are dismissed without cause within that time period.

Chief of Staff Patricia Malgieri, who will earn $155,000, and Chief Financial Officer William Ansbrow, who will earn $150,000, are virtually guaranteed employment for three years. The only way they can be terminated is if they use illegal drugs, don’t come to work for 90 days without having a disability, or commit a crime against the district or its employees.

The SEG contract covering all other cabinet members says the superintendent can terminate a cabinet member at any time, for any reason. They are entitled to three to six months of severance, depending on their length of service.

School Board Member Van White said Vargas created a “super class of SEG members.” Guaranteed payments and employment in the public sector for top-level workers? It seems unprecedented in this area.

Pending any change in state law, the board will attempt to rewrite the SEG contract to forbid side deals. As for abolishing these positions positions, there’s a fear the district would have to pay out the individual contracts.

Vargas’ current cabinet has 27 administrators and one secretary and a payroll of $3 million. This compares to Brizard’s cabinet payroll of $4.9 million. But Vargas moved secretaries out of this group. If you compare only administrative cabinet salaries, Brizard’s cabinet was about $800,000 more expensive. Vargas also went further and reduced the benefits awarded to cabinet members.

But the side deals we learned about this week are a reminder of SEG’s troubled past – and present.

Links of the Day:

– Politicians around the state are introducing Governor Cuomo at events using the exact same words. That’s because Cuomo’s staff wrote them.

– Buffalo’s new bishop is known for closing churches and opposing gay marriage. Is this a sign of what Rochester can expect in its new Catholic leader?

– Scholars say a 1613 Iroquois treaty is fake. But the tribe says it has the belt version.

Take a look inside a spaceship house!

The appointment of former deputy mayor Patty Malgieri to a top Rochester City School District post is important.

But we don’t know why yet.

Malgieri and her new boss, Bolgen Vargas have to answer why she was brought to the district and what she will be tasked with doing.

Malgieri has long been interested in the district, even considering attending the Broad Superintendent’s Academy while Duffy was angling for mayoral control. She has studied the district as the head of Center for Governmental Research and most recently was in charge of Hillside Work Scholarship.

Vargas announced she would be his new Chief of Staff and then departed for vacation. School board members were stunned. They don’t see a woman who has been critical of the district in the past as an ally.

I have a hunch about what Malgieri will be doing. It won’t have anything to do with instruction, as she’s not certified. I can see her taking on consolidation of city and district services. I can see her advancing a plan for closing schools. I can also see her working with charter schools struggling to find space. Malgieri is a policy and process person who will likely overhaul some district operations.

Vargas and Malgieri will have to discuss the plan, which they are expected to do when he comes back. I’m sure there’s a plan or she wouldn’t have taken the job.

Links of the Day:

– “They wrote checks with their mouths that their rear ends may not be able to cash.” The West Brighton Fire Department debate is unreal.

– Carousel Mall officially becomes Destiny USA today, the sixth largest mall in America. The Democrat and Chronicle wonders if it will take a bite out of Eastview.

– Take a sneak peek inside Trader Joe’s in Albany, set to open Friday. Rochester’s is opening this fall.

– This is nauseating. GE is paying a retired executive $89,000 a month to keep him from getting a job at a competitor.

– Sweden’s paternity leave policy paves the road for more gender equality in the workplace.

Links of the Day:

– Rochester’s interim superintendent Bolgen Vargas brought up truancy when he discussed the district’s abysmal graduation results. How can students learn when they’re not in school?

The problem starts in kindergarten. Vargas says only about 80 percent of kindergartners show up on a regular basis. That’s why Assemblyman David Gantt and State Senator Joe Robach have introduced bills calling for mandatory kindergarten attendance in the city. Those kids are already getting a start on a school career marked by chronic absenteeism.

Very few parents will say they don’t value education or want their children to succeed. But putting those ideals into practice is clearly an issue. Many parents of kindergartners are barely out of their teens themselves. Many are dealing with poverty, multiple jobs and housing stresses. Somewhere along the line, the importance of going to school is getting lost.

Vargas can knock on as many doors as he wants to get kids to come to school. But changing a culture is much more difficult.

Update: I did a story on this topic today for 13WHAM News.

– How big of a problem is synthetic marijuana? The Democrat and Chronicle goes looking for it in stores and doesn’t find it. It also found few cases of overdoses and severe reactions at local emergency rooms.

– Inmates at Auburn Correctional Facility got their associates degrees, thanks to Warren Buffett’s sister.

It’s hard for the media to cover the state capital with fewer resources. 

Mitt Romney is all about school vouchers, though he doesn’t use the word.

– Kodak is putting its patents up for auction. In a court filing, the company admits it has had trouble attracting a bidder. This is not a good sign. Read the filing below.

The Rochester City School District cannot move the needle on its graduation rate.

The State Education Department released 2011 graduation data. (It’s unfortunate it takes the state a year to release this information.) The data shows Rochester has the worst four-year high school completion rate of all of the state’s big cities.

The graduation rate is calculated by tracking all of the students who entered high school as freshmen four years earlier. The state released June and August rates. I tend to use the August rate, because it includes students who only needed to take a class or two in summer school to get their diplomas.

Here’s a look at the district’s four-year August graduation rate over time:

  • 2008: 52 percent
  • 2009: 46 percent
  • 2010: 51 percent
  • 2011: 49 percent

Here are some thoughts and highlights:

– Jean-Claude Brizard couldn’t make a dent. (No urban superintendent has the magic touch. Interim Superintendent Bolgen Vargas, in discussing the 2011 data, said students must come to school to learn.)

– The only schools with graduation rates above 60 percent were School of the Arts (90 percent), School Without Walls (66 percent), Edison’s Finance school (61 percent) and Wilson (61 percent).

– The worst graduation rate was at Monroe High School (33 percent). Charlotte High School (34 percent) was a close second.

– The gems of the school district, Northwest and Northeast, saw their grad rates plummet from the 70s to 53 and 60 percent respectively. The schools are very small, however, and results can be skewed if only a few students fall behind.

– East High’s graduation rate was 43 percent. What does that mean for popular principal Anibal Soler, credited with changing the culture of the school? No Child Left Behind mandates changes at schools with three years of graduation rates of less than 60 percent. That often includes removing the principal, which is what happened to Freddie Thomas’ Sandra Jordan. The state recently got a waiver from some NCLB requirements, so it’s possible Soler will get a reprieve.

The district’s 2012 graduation rate may be even worse.

Bolgen Vargas wants to get a handle on his cabinet. The cabinet is made up of a group of non-union secretaries and administrators called the Superintendent Employee Group, which has its own contract.

The Democrat and Chronicle reports he wants them to start paying for health insurance and plans to scale back other benefits:

Currently, members of the non-unionized superintendent’s employee group do not pay anything toward their health insurance. Vargas wants them to start paying between 10 and 15 percent of their costs, putting them in line with teachers.

(snip)

Vargas also wants to reign in vacation time for the group of ranking administrators, many of whom come into the job with five weeks of vacation that they can cash in if they do not use it.

Vargas will present a specific proposal to the board next week.

The SEG has long been a source of contention. Its members enjoy benefits other unions do not. When members are fired, they can collect six-months severance (depending on hire date, I believe) and a cashout of sick and vacation time. (This is why if Vargas plans job reductions or personnel changes, it will cost the district initially.)

Former superintendents Jean-Claude Brizard and Manuel Rivera spent a lot of money on their cabinets. Brizard promised to reduce spending, but actually increased it by 40 percent. (This post has links to prior SEG lists and salaries.)

It’s too soon to know how Vargas’ proposal will impact the budget. If he scales back benefits, but increases the ranks of SEG, it could be a wash. If he moves people out of SEG into ASAR, he hasn’t really cut high-level administrative positions.

We’ll be watching because monitoring cabinet spending is important. School districts are not private companies. Public dollars shouldn’t be unnecessarily lavished on public workers, especially in tight fiscal times. We also care because leaders set examples and priorities. How much the guy at the top rewards his “insiders” is often very revealing.

Update: The D&C updated its report and included a list of current positions – without names – and salaries. The secretaries have been removed. The remaining list of administrators in SEG looks a lot like Bill Cala’s more-streamlined setup. The jury is still out, however, as Vargas is not done with his reorganization.

Rochester school board member Mary Adams objected to the search process for a new superintendent, but will vote for Bolgen Vargas. She explained her reluctant support for him in an insightful email:

For the record, the reason I decided to support entering into superintendent contract negotiations with Dr. Vargas is that I believe extending the search process will not result in a better candidate, and there is a real possibility of ending up with a much worse candidate. With due respect to board colleagues, the reality is there is nothing I can think of that would influence the current board to implement a new community search process that would improve the outcome.

Criticism of and anger about the search process are legitimate. Critiques of Bolgen Vargas’s performance based on facts and evidence are justified and necessary.

Further, the sense of well-being and emotional security attached to Dr. Vargas, especially among staff working within the district and among political and institutional leaders is troubling. It bothers me because while the affective tone of the district has improved the essence of Jean-Claude Brizard’s policies and plans, with some exceptions, are being played out.

A word to supporters of Dr. Vargas:

If you find Dr. Vargas a welcomed contrast to Mr. Brizard, is it simply about your feelings? Please take the time to really assess current district efforts, priorities and intransigences. If we come up short, then you are obligated to challenge Dr. Vargas in the interest of our children and families. The most irresponsible thing we can do is give our leader a pass because he makes people feel calm and content.

I have been challenging Dr. Vargas and guess what? Even under challenge, he does not make you feel bad, though it has been a bit exhausting. Imagine if we all seriously challenged him — and supported when warranted — based on our collective commitment to Rochester’s children and families. This means finding time, working harder, taking risks and organizing from the base, whether teacher, parent, principal, retiree, student or elected official.

A word to opponents of Dr. Vargas:

There is no realistic mechanism to stop or reverse this decision that I can think of. The question now, with the well-being of our children and families the goal, is what’s next? Next to giving Dr. Vargas a pass because he is nice, the worst thing we can do is abandon the openings for improvement that exist by refusing to engage where possible for real change. However you decide to proceed – I hope with a set of focused, well thought out approaches — I will respect you.

Mary Adams

I wouldn’t be surprised if the selection of Bolgen Vargas as Rochester’s next school superintendent draws national attention.

How many other people go from guidance counselor to head of the state’s third-largest school district in one giant leap? Vargas has never served as a vice-principal, principal or district bureaucrat.

Turns out, there is precedent – right here in Rochester!

When Peter McWalters was made interim superintendent in 1985, taking the helm from Laval Wilson, he was a teacher on special assignment at Central Office. He’d participated in the 1980 teacher strike.

Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski said no one ever thought McWalters would become the permanent superintendent, but he impressed people and was granted a state waiver (he didn’t have his administrative certification) to continue as the district’s leader.

McWalters, of course, is famous for negotiating a contract that increased teacher pay by 40 percent over three years. The 1987 deal landed Rochester in TIME magazine and national newspapers. The pay was supposed to be tied to accountability.

Four years later, it was clear there is no easy fix for urban education. The New York Times wrote:

Chastened reformers say they are trying to put into effect the lesson they have already learned: that the politics of reform — explaining it, selling it and involving the community in it — are just as important as its content.

“The public is disgusted,” said Peter McWalters, Rochester’s Superintendent of Schools. “So is the business leadership. Everyone out there is angry. They feel left out, alienated and unconnected. They don’t know whether I’m succeeding or failing.”

McWalters left Rochester in 1992 to become the education commissioner in Rhode Island and stayed there until 2009.

Like McWalters, Vargas is well-liked by the teachers union. That’s a problem for some parents and business leaders eager for more accountability and fiscal restraint.

Like McWalters, Vargas did not go the traditional route to become superintendent. (Vargas, however, has his doctorate and administrative certification.)

We’ll have to see if Vargas grows more like McWalters in the future. Will he have an out-of-the-box grand plan for reform? Will he leave for greener pastures after five or six years?

When asked if Vargas could change his leadership style and priorities now that he’s the top guy, Urbanski said with a smile, “Right, whoever heard of men changing after they get married?”

Links of the Day:

– In the dead of the night, the Rochester City School District announced two finalists for superintendent, Bolgen Vargas and Andre Spencer. A third candidate, Tomas Hanna, must have dropped out or didn’t make the cut.

Vargas and Spencer share something in common – a lack of administrative experience. Spencer, a school improvement chief in Houston, is a young man, considering he graduated college in 1997. Vargas went from guidance counselor to interim superintendent, though he was president of the Rochester school board for a time.

It’s curious a national search produced these two candidates. People have wondered all along if the fix was in for Vargas. Another explanation could be outside candidates rightly or wrongly perceived Vargas as the popular shoo-in and didn’t want to waste their time.

Sources say there are some on the school board who wanted to broaden the search and go back to the drawing board. Those forces clearly did not win out.

During next week’s meet-and-greet’s with the candidates, it’s important to ask Vargas this question: Do you plan on staying in Rochester? Don’t assume because Vargas has spent his career here that he will remain. He was recently awarded his doctorate and Rochester could be a nice stepping stone – especially if he is selected and does a good job.

Update: School Board member Van White says the search process needs to start over.

– Monday night’s homicide victim preached against violence. This is a sad story.

– A Gates-Chili coach is not letting paralysis slow him down

– Fender benders may become a thing of the past. Why? Our cars will talk to each other.

Instagram can thank Kodak for its billion dollars.

This time last year, former Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard proposed cutting 900 jobs and gutting art, music and physical education.

Tonight, Interim Superintendent Bolgen Vargas proposed adding 54 classroom teachers, primarily in the elective subjects decimated by his predecessor.

Brizard’s budget, under the guise of “equitable funding,” raised class sizes, left some kids with only one period of gym a week and closed libraries.

Vargas’ budget cuts Central Office, administrative positions and consultants.

Brizard’s budget claimed an $80 million deficit, but set aside $25 million in reserves.

Vargas’ budget uses $15 million in reserves and still has $10 million left over.

Brizard’s budget left displaced teachers collecting unemployment through the summer until they were rehired at the last minute.

Vargas’ budget assures placement before the end of the school year, saving taxpayers a lot of money.

One could argue Brizard cut so much, he paved the way for an easy budget season for Vargas. But both leaders saw increases in state aid. Both leaders had challenges of rising costs and the loss of various grants.

It’s important to note Vargas’ full budget proposal isn’t online yet and there may be programmatic and staffing details that will cause alarm.

Vargas is showing a dramatically different way of handling a budget. It’s so different, one wonders about Brizard’s management style. Perhaps the former Rochester superintendent truly believed in large class sizes and limited electives. The only other explanation is he was incompetent, evil or lacked creativity.

Brizard created chaos.

Vargas – so far – created calm.

Update: There is an interesting thread on my Facebook page about spending down reserves, management styles and whether Vargas’ budget has vision. One comment pointed out one superintendent cuts his way out of problems, while the other spends his way out of problems.

*******

There are three remaining candidates for the RCSD superintendent post.

Links of the Day:

– Does Bolgen Vargas have the edge in the superintendent search? City Councilman Adam McFadden echoed the feelings of more than a few people with this tweet:

[tweet https://twitter.com/RUN_AMC/status/186562390605832192]

There’s no evidence that has surfaced to suggest the search process is rigged. Sources say the board simply didn’t get a deep candidate pool. Many people didn’t apply or dropped out late in the process. Part of the reason is their names will be made public. Concerns over whether Vargas is a shoo-in may have also swayed applicants.

Update: I confirmed a candidate pool and updated my earlier story.

Vargas has the advantage of incumbency. He’s had a relatively smooth year. He’ll likely announce a budget this week that avoids the chaos of his predecessor. People generally like him.

But there are worries he doesn’t have the leadership background or backbone to take on the district’s massive problems. They think he’s a pushover.

No matter which side people fall on, not one person I talked to today seemed “excited” about the candidate pool. I suspect the only way the board will ditch Vargas is if they’re “wowed” by someone else. I’m not getting the sense there’s a blockbuster challenger yet.

One thing’s for certain: Vargas will not go back to being a guidance counselor.

– It’s a sad day for Rochester news consumers. Eighteen Democrat and Chronicle employees with a collective 619 years of experience are accepting buyouts. Gannett says the move “strengthens” the company. It strengthens the bottom line, but not the product.

Bob Matthews, Bob Marcotte, Mark Hare and Michael Zeigler are among those who are retiring. You cannot replace that kind of knowledge and experience. Matthews is a household name and an institution. I’m glad they had a choice about their departure.

This is not an excuse to write off the paper. It’s still got the most journalists in town and serves an important accountability function. Let’s hope the ship can be righted. I’m not sure this is the best strategy.

– Erie County stopped giving out tax breaks to hotels for renovation projects. Why doesn’t Monroe County scrutinize this kind of incentive?

– We live in a rush-to-judgment society. David Carr takes the media to task in the Trayvon Martin shooting.

– Chances are you’re not watching broadcast TV at 10 p.m. Instead, you’re catching up on DVR’d programs.

In his State of the Schools speech, Rochester City School District Interim Superintendent Bolgen Vargas said he wants schools to be like Wegmans. Parents, students and staff should be treated like customers and be able to get answers to their questions. Vargas said schools should be pleasant places and embody the “Wegmans experience.”

(I’m envisioning students pushing grocery carts filled with books down softly-lighted hallways to the Market Cafe for lunch.)

The RCSD faces a $41 million gap. Vargas plans on using $20 million in reserves. The district is getting an extra $10 million from the state. That leaves $11 million the district will have cut – a very manageable figure.

“We are going to end the annual budget drama,” Vargas said.

Vargas also said he is in talks with the teachers union about extending the school day and year. (That could be very expensive, but staggered staff schedules can help trim costs.) He wants Central Office staff to go into schools and substitute teach.

Vargas is clearly very different from his predecessor, Jean-Claude Brizard. He’s conciliatory and eager to please. It’s hard to see him getting into fights with parents, politicians or teachers.

Is Vargas’ kindness a weakness? Can he translate his goals into action? Will he be given time to try?  Those are questions the school board will be asking as it decides whether to give Vargas the permanent job.

Vargas has set the bar high. Wegmans ranks as one of the top companies for employees and its motto is, “Every day you get our best.”

Other items of note:

– The RCSD shared its graduation rate projections. The news is not good.

– Governor Andrew Cuomo is stopping in Buffalo Wednesdsay. When is he visiting Rochester? There are some reporters who’d like to pepper him questions about Buffalo’s billion, Kodak, Rochester’s state aid disparity and other issues.

– Buffalo’s city council passed new food truck rules. The regulations permit the trucks to operate more freely. Alas, Rochester pretty much bans all food trucks, except at festivals and on private property.

– Syracuse is worried about losing the Golden Snowball to Binghamton. Buffalo and Rochester are essentially tied for third place.