The Manchester Board of School Committee has appointed a new superintendent of schools, Dr. Bolgen Vargas, the past superintendent of the Rochester, New York, school system, a district with over 30,000 students — double the size of Manchester. Dr. Vargas will replace Dr. Debra Livingston, who recently retired.
Dr. Vargas sure looks like he has the credentials to lead Manchester, our state’s largest school district. While Rochester has twice the student population of Manchester, it also has a budget four times as large. When Dr. Vargas took on the Rochester position, the system had a $70 million budget gap that he seems to have successfully solved. Wow! If he solved a nearly 10-percent budget gap in Rochester, it sure sounds like he has the skills to take on the financial issues of Manchester.
While this speaks volumes of his financial skills and is a good hint at why the Board of School Committee has placed their faith in Dr. Vargas, there is a caution flag that is worthy of note. Dr. Vargas seems to have had a conflict with the school board that led to his leaving the post before his contract was completed.
We know all too well of the conflicts that recent superintendents have had with the Board of School Committee. Will we see the same kinds of conflicts that we’ve seen in the past? Are we to assume that this is simply a natural cats-versus-dogs type of relationship and that these kinds of conflicts are always going to arise?
Does it have to be this way? Is one side always wrong and the other side always right? That is unlikely. However, the history here is that this relationship has been problematic and one that is worth paying attention to.
It seems like the Board of School Committee has hired a very skilled leader. Certainly, there will be a honeymoon period. But after that, will the same kinds of conflicts arise, leaving all of us to think, “Here we go again?” For the sake of the city, especially the students, let’s hope that things go well. If they do, it should be considered a feather in the cap of both Dr. Vargas and the Board of School Committee.
Fred Bramante is the past chairman and member of the NH State Board of Education. He speaks and consults on education redesign to regional, state, and national organizations.