News of two recent appointments has me feeling optimistic about the Rochester city schools.
I'm talking about the announcement that William Ansbrow, budget director for the city of Rochester, and Patricia Malgieri, former Rochester deputy mayor and president of Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection, are taking top administrative positions with the schools. Ansbrow is becoming chief financial officer; Malgieri will be Superintendent Bolgan Vargas' chief of staff.
I know there are skeptics out there who wonder what Vargas has in mind when he hires two top administrators who lack purely education/academic credentials, which some argue are essential for leadership of complex urban school districts such as Rochester's.
Here's why I think Ansbrow and Malgieri are perfect for these jobs, and why Vargas deserves enormous credit for choosing them for his "leadership cabinet."
Let's start with the current financial realities of public education. Gone are the days when any school district-especially an urban one-can focus solely on academics. Funding for education is under a microscope, particularly in districts that have failed to achieve success in terms of high graduation rates and standardized test scores.
The nation's slow economic recovery has also made governmental budgets tighter than tight. Taxpayers are tapped out. The state and federal governments are asking, requiring schools to do more with less.
Ansbrow and Malgieri are proven leaders who understand those issues. The city of Rochester, which continues to struggling with its own financial viability, largely because of unfunded mandates and soaring pension costs, is a major funder of the school district, required by state law to turn over to the district 70 percent of what it raises in property taxes.
As the city's budget director since 2001, Ansbrow "has been a key player in maintaining the city's fiscal health during challenging times," Mayor Tom Richards said. Under Ansbrow's leadership, the city has maintained a favorable credit rating and has a reputation for good financial management, something other upstate cities wish they could claim.
I would expect that in his new role, Ansbrow would do the same for the city schools, strengthening their fiscal management as well as the district's relationship with the city.
Malgieri has long had an interest in urban education. When she headed the Center for Governmental Research, the city schools were-as they continue to be-a subject of research. And during her term as deputy mayor, she helped push for consideration of mayoral control for the district.
Malgieri has been a critic of the schools, which I'm sure makes many district employees nervous. But I think her perspective, her experience in effectively analyzing operations and her strength as an administrator will serve Vargas well as he continues the essential work to improve educational outcomes for city students. Some have expressed concern that Malgieri is too business-oriented, but I think it is necessary to have someone on the team who is results-oriented and cognizant of the bottom line, for all the reasons I mentioned above.
This brings me to my final point about why these personnel moves make sense. Vargas has an enormous charge, one that he must try to accomplish in a difficult, sometimes contentious climate. The stakes are incredibly high. The city's schoolchildren are our future workforce. If they fail, we as a community face an even more challenging future. And every year that the schools don't improve is a lost year in the lives of these students.
I believe that in hiring two strong, business-oriented individuals, Vargas is acknowledging all this. He is saying that he wants a team he can trust to help him with the tremendously important business-financial aspects of running the schools so that he and others on his team can concentrate on the even more important aspects of providing a high-quality education to the students they serve.
I only hope that others within the district can see things that way and give this team a chance to prove what can be accomplished. An internal power struggle would be incredibly counterproductive. Let's stay focused on the real goal: giving the city's students the education they need, the experience that will prepare them to be productive citizens of our community.
Sandy Parker is president and CEO of the Rochester Business Alliance Inc. and a co-founder of Unshackle Upstate.
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