Superintendent files notice of claim against school board

ROCHESTER — Superintendent Bolgen Vargas has filed a notice of claim against the Rochester City School District’s board, which he says approved resolutions that violate his contract and are "retaliatory."

Board President Van White said that the seven-member board voted unanimously March 3 on the two resolutions that are the subject of the claim, which he had not yet seen when he spoke to El Mensajero Católico on March 4.

The board’s resolutions seek to define which positions in the "Superintendent’s Employment Group" — the members of Vargas’ senior management team — are excluded from the right to bargain collectively under New York civil service law. The board has authorized the law firm of Hodgens Russ LLP to seek a determination on the question from the state’s Public Employment Relations Board, according to the resolutions. The district board will decide — based on the Public Employment Relations Board’s determination — which positions will be part of the superintendent’s group and within his appointment power.

According to a letter to the board’s law firm from Vargas’ lawyer, Steven Modica, the conflict arises from interpretations of legislation approved by former Gov. George Pataki in 1997. Through those amendments to New York Education Law, school superintendents specifically of Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse were granted the right to appoint their own management teams.

Therefore, the superintendent has the right to the "appointment of associate, assistant and district superintendents, and other supervising staff who are excluded from the right to bargain collectively pursuant to article fourteen of the civil service law shall, within the amounts budgeted for such positions," Modica’s letter states.

"The resolution by the board circumvents the statute and allows them (and not the superintendent) to exert control over individuals hired for leadership positions by the district," Vargas’ claim states.

The board’s resolutions state, however, that the number of positions in the "Superintendent’s Employment Group" has more than doubled to 32 since the 1997 legislation was enacted, exceeding the "statutory scope of that law."

White said that this is the first "significant disagreement" between the board and the superintendent in the past three years of working together. And the two parties have agreed on some major changes, including the partnership through which the University of Rochester will oversee operations at East High School beginning in the fall.

"We’re making some progress" in the district and that must be the board’s focus, White said. "The lawyers have to work this out, not educators."

In a statement sent to staff March 4, Vargas concurred that the district must focus on students. District spokesman Chip Partner said Vargas would not make further comment.

"The board’s actions have raised legal issues which will be addressed by the courts and lawyers involved," Vargas said in his statement to staff. "It is important that we all continue to do our jobs and stay focused on the critical work of supporting students."

"We have work to do," White agreed. "We can’t get focused on this."

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