Rochester City School District Superintendent Bolgen Vargas filed a claim against the RCSD Board of Education Wednesday, claiming breach of contract; violation of education law; retaliation; and improper use of taxpayer funds as causes for the action.
Vargas filed the suit after board members voted to require the superintendent to receive board approval before he can hire or fire any of the 32 members of his Superintendent Employee Group (SEG) Tuesday.
The board also approved a resolution to hire an outside contractor to review whether all of the SEG members in Vargas’ cabinet should legally be part of the group.
Board members cited spending issues due to Vargas’ SEG hiring practices, as well as non-compliance with state law, as reasons for the move.
However, in advance of Tuesday’s vote, Vargas’ lawyer, Steve Modica, wrote a letter to the board, stating it was the board members who were in violation of the law, not Vargas.
“I have advised Dr. Vargas that the proposed board resolutions are illegal and will severely impair his ability to manage the RCSD. Left unchallenged, they will impair him and future RCSD Superintendents (and his colleagues in other large districts) from executing their responsibilities as CEOs,” Modica wrote. “Although we hope that legal action is not necessary, I want you to be aware that we are prepared to litigate this matter to vindicate Dr. Vargas’ rights if he authorizes us to do so.”
Modica specifically cited legislation sponsored by Assemblyman David Gantt in 1997, which gave former Rochester superintendent Clifford Janey the ability to hire and assemble his own management team.
Gov. George Pataki approved the legislation at the time, writing:
“Current law deprives the Rochester superintendent of the basic and essential power to assemble his own senior management team. This is contrary to sound management principles that require the chief executive of any organization to have the authority to assemble a team of senior managers who share common goals and a common philosophy.”
Currently, Vargas’ suit asks the court to overturn the board’s resolutions, stating,” If the court finds the board intentionally acted beyond the scope of its authority, by violating the education law, individual board members should be held individually liable for their attorneys’ fees, and the superintendent’s attorney’s fees.”
An RCSD spokesperson said Vargas will only comment on the matter through his attorney.