MANCHESTER — Citing personal and professional reasons, Manchester school Superintendent Dr. Bolgen Vargas abruptly submitted his resignation on Friday.
Vargas, who is in the middle of his third year in Manchester schools, said he will leave his job in 90 days. That puts his departure in early April, before the end of the school year and in the middle of the school district’s budget process.
“I strongly believe that the future success of the District requires the stability and consistency in leadership of a Superintendent who can commit to several years ahead with the expectation of putting those plans into action,” he said.
The resignation took school board members and Mayor Joyce Craig by surprise. And Vargas’ lack of a clear explanation prompted speculation and finger pointing.
School Board Vice-Chairman Arthur Beaudry said Vargas felt he had lost the support of Mayor Joyce Craig and some board members.
For two years, board members had second-guessed decisions such as moving administrative offices to Manchester High School West and reducing constant classroom assessments, Beaudry said.
“He told me he didn’t come here to fight, he came here to work,” Beaudry said.
Beaudry, who is the longest-serving school board member, said Vargas is the most productive of the six superintendents he has worked with.
A lawyer representing fired Webster School Principal Sarah Lynch said pressure is mounting over his client’s termination.
Manchester lawyer Kirk Simoneau has filed a whistleblower suit on Lynch’s behalf; he plans to soon host a town meeting for parents with children in the school’s Emotional Behavioral Disorder Program; and he faulted a Dec. 21 letter to Webster parents in which Vargas refers to a student stabbing Lynch as an “alleged incident.”
“When the public becomes aware of the truth, it might explain why the superintendent has decided to resign,” Simoneau said.
Vargas spoke to a reporter briefly Friday and became irritated when asked if the Webster situation influenced his decision.
“It had nothing to do with it,” Vargas said. “The facts are that I had a contract that is ending, and the board has offered an extension for two years.”
In November, the school board had offered a two-year contract extension for Vargas, who is a native of the Dominican Republic and the first minority superintendent in the district.
He currently earns a salary of $165,000.
With 13,600 students, Manchester is the largest school district in the state, comprising about 7½ percent of New Hampshire students.
In his resignation email to city leaders, Vargas attached a 30-page progress report.
Summer Learning Programs.
A $300,000 grant from the Barr Foundation to transform West High School.
Relocation of district offices to West High School.
Elimination of a $7 million budget gap.
Reduction of class sizes in the middle and elementary schools.
Restoration of foreign language, health and reading teacher to middle schools.
District-wide tools to test reading and math in elementary and middle school grades.
Bringing the special education program into compliance with state monitoring.
The Manchester Proud effort among business leaders to improve city schools.
In an online post, Alderman and state Rep. Barbara Shaw said she was devastated to hear the news. A retired teacher and House Education Committee member, Shaw said Vargas was poised to implement improvement plans for the district.
“This man has done more for our school district than any previous superintendent in many years,” she wrote.
In an interview, Craig said she was surprised when Vargas called her Friday morning to tell her he was resigning.
She said Manchester schools accomplished a lot during Vargas’ three years. She mentioned the seven-year, $10.5 million GEAR-UP grant to focus on college preparedness, the Velcro University program at West High School and efforts by Manchester Proud to reinvigorate the school system.
“There are a lot of exciting things happening in Manchester. We have a great opportunity to find someone who really wants to come here and make a difference,” Craig said.
She wished Vargas the best in his future endeavors.
Craig said she did not believe that Vargas fell in with factions on the 15-member school board, but said that question would best be addressed by him.
Craig said the school board met Wednesday night in an unpublicized, closed-door meeting, which is permissible when legal matters are discussed. She would not discuss the content of the meeting or whether Vargas and the board were in agreement after the meeting concluded.
Craig, who is chairman of the school board, said Friday she planned to speak to Beaudry to discuss how to replace Vargas and whether an interim superintendent is needed.
She said the entire board will take up the matter when it next meets on Jan. 14.
Craig said she prefers a nationwide search and public meetings with finalists, a common practice that Manchester schools used to select its last two superintendents.
She also said that business leaders and Manchester Proud will likely be involved in the selection process.
But in several online posts, parents said they should be represented in any selection process.
And Sue Hannan, the president of the Manchester Education Association, said teachers should also be part of any selection.
She said she hopes Vargas finishes out the school year because consistency is necessary.
“I’m wondering what happened over vacation that made him change his mind,” Hannan said.
She said the teachers’ union started out communicating and collaborating well with Vargas.
“Over time, that has broken down over the fact that he and I are very stubborn over what we want,” she said. She worries that pending grievances, which usually deal with individual teacher issues, will end up unresolved.
She said one needs nerves of steel to be superintendent in Manchester.
“When you go in for a job like that, you’re going to get criticized no matter what,” she said.
Vargas last led the school system in Rochester, N.Y. He was hired in September 2016, and started the job officially on Oct. 1, once the school year had begun.
His hiring came after the abrupt retirement of Dr. Debra Livingston in May 2016. Her retirement gave school board members about five months — most of that time during the summer — to find a replacement. She had been on the job for about three years.