Rochester, N.Y. – Rochester’s school board has questions about individual employment contracts given to four new members of the superintendent’s cabinet. Although there is a contract covering all members of the Superintendent’s Employee Group, these deals provide additional perks.
13WHAM News has read copies of the contracts and they appear unprecedented in the Rochester City School District.
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.
“My God if a student or teacher didn’t report to work for a week, we’d have concerns, but 90 days? Doesn’t sound right to me,” said school board member Van White, who said taxpayers could be on the hook if these individuals perform poorly in their positions. “It creates a commitment that leaves us perhaps liable in terms of paying these people should a decision be made to make them leave.”
Superintendent Bolgen Vargas said he needed to offer good compensation to attract such an experienced group of employees. He pointed out he’s trimmed the number of cabinet members and their benefits, including making them pay more for their health care.
When asked about whether the contracts had appropriate outs for the district, he said, “You’re looking at a person who has full confidence in the people that I hire. They have a track record. They don’t change. They are normally consistent…I have full confidence that will do an incredible job. I need stability here.”
Board members were not told about the hiring of Malgieri and Ansbrow before they were offered the contracts. The hiring of Malgieri, in particular, irked them, because she has supported mayoral control of the district in the past.
Malgieri, the former deputy mayor, said she has not met with board members to discuss their concerns. “I think I’ve been assessed my whole career on my ability to execute and implement priorities from others. I usually don’t have my own priorities so I’m looking forward to implementing the superintendent’s priorities, which are very akin to what I’ve worked on in my career.”
Malgieri said the contract was offered to her and was a consideration. “We all had jobs in other capacities. You have to think about whether you want to give up a job you know you can stay in and be successful in, so it was certainly a factor in thinking about leaving Hillside Work Scholarship Connection. I could have stayed for a long time.”
The board does not have to approve the contracts or any of the superintendent’s cabinet hires. A state law was passed during the tenure of former superintendent Clifford Janey that authorized the Rochester schools chief to appoint his own cabinet and set their salaries.
School Board President Malik Evans, who was not happy about the individual contracts, said the law needs to be changed. “The danger is the board is responsible for all of resources, not the superintendent. They’re supposed to be at-will employees.”
Evans now wants to rewrite the SEG contract to forbid side deals.
The school board does have control over the cabinet budget line and position titles. However, White believes the individual contracts would still leave the district liable for paying the officials’ salaries if they eliminated the jobs.
“No one is on the hook,” said Vargas. “Taxpayers are on the hook for a poor result.”