Outgoing Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bolgen Vargas hasn’t responded to questions from the media surrounding his decision to resign.
But there he was last Thursday at Manchester High School West, broaching the topic with a half dozen faculty, community members and one Union Leader reporter during the first “Coffee and Conversation” session held since news of his impending departure broke.
No school board members. No cameras. Just casual conversation about a controversial decision.
“The potential here is enormous and it will be realized — provided we can stop fighting and collaborate,” Vargas said.
Vargas abruptly submitted his resignation on Jan. 4, citing personal and professional reasons.
Vargas, in the middle of his third year at the helm of Manchester schools, will leave his job in early April, before the end of the school year and in the middle of the school district’s budget process.
School Board Vice Chairman Arthur Beaudry has said Vargas felt he had lost the support of Mayor Joyce Craig and some board members.
When asked, Vargas declined to discuss the specifics behind his decision to leave.
“I have made a decision I think is the best decision for the district,” Vargas said. “This district has a great future, and I realize leaving sounds very contradictory, but if an organization depends on just one person that’s not necessarily a healthy thing. Here it’s not about the work of one person; it’s about the work of over 2,000 people.”
Vargas didn’t deny that the hostility and infighting among school board members, apparent to anyone who monitors their meetings, played a part in his decision.
“I like to say I came here with the spirit of a mockingbird — to do no harm,” Vargas said. “I tried, to the best of my ability, to get that across. No societal institution can succeed if you are constantly in conflict, so when I took the job I said, ‘Well, if I’m a mockingbird, if I try to do no harm, I have to lead by example.’ I have tried to do my very best not to get into a power struggle or anything of that nature.”
Vargas said he has heard from many teachers, city officials, parents and students saying they were sorry to hear he is leaving, but he won’t reconsider.
“I would not be honest with you if I said I haven’t been moved by the support,” Vargas said. “One of the things I hear most is that at least I was positive about the district. Of course, it makes you stop and makes me reflect a little bit more about the decision, but at the end of the day an organization is not just about one person. I do enjoy the work that we do.”
Vargas said he isn’t worried that any programs or initiatives he helped start could “fall by the wayside” after he leaves.
“That doesn’t concern me,” Vargas said. “If they go, they could go with or without me here. This organization will continue to work and the community needs to be engaged.”
Vargas said he sees good things ahead for the Queen City — provided those in power can play nice together.
“This district has a great future if we come to the realization that our kids and the people that work here are served better by people like me not engaging in fighting or behavior that would be concerning for students,” Vargas said. “Everybody agrees with me that collaboration is important, but for some reason we have struggled with that.”
(See related opinion piece by Mayor Joyce Craig on B7.)
Any retired members of the police department interested in the soon-to-be-posted position of full-time, salaried, nonaffiliated public information officer (PIO) will start from scratch in terms of salary.
In other words, no prior steps allowed.
Police Chief Carlo Capano went before the Aldermanic Committee on Human Resources and Insurance last week requesting permission to advertise for a civilian PIO with formal public information education and experience in communications, social media, marketing and media relations, replacing the department’s current PIO, Lt. Brian O’Keefe.
According to a memo from Assistant Police Chief Ryan Grant, the position would pay an hourly rate of $25.66, with an annual salary range of $53,372 to $76,082.
That prompted Ward 10 Alderman Bill Barry to question whether someone who may retire from the department and apply for the job would be eligible for pay at the salary steps earned before retirement.
“For instance, if someone has 30 years on the force and retires, then puts in for the PIO would they come in at the top step?” Barry asked. “Would we be paying them an extra $76,000?”
Human Resources Director Jane Gile promises that isn’t the case.
“If an employee retires from the police department and then applies for another city job, they start from scratch,” Gile said.
With expanded automatic trash pickup on track to launch sometime next fall, Department of Public Works Director Kevin Sheppard received the go-ahead last week from city aldermen to retask six city refuse workers to other jobs within the department, making good on a promise that no jobs would be lost to the initiative.
In October, board members approved an expansion of the city’s automated trash collection program. The downtown area, alleys and most one-way streets will be excluded from the expansion.
In 2016, aldermen approved a pilot program in portions of Wards 6, 7 and 12. The program kicked off May 1, 2017, with the DPW deploying one specialized truck to collect trash in selected areas. Automated trash collection involves the use of a garbage truck fitted with a mechanical arm, which grabs and empties trash carts. The automated collection process requires that trash be placed in a special rolling cart.
At the time the pilot program was launched, Mark Gomez, environmental programs manager for the Manchester DPW, reported workers’ compensation claims from trash collectors averaged nearly $300,000 per year.
Over the course of the yearlong pilot, not one worker on the automated trucks reported a work-related injury. Gomez estimates that the trucks prevented seven injuries, which would have translated into 525 lost hours and $30,000 in workers’ compensation expenses.
While the planned expansion of the program is unlikely to launch until next fall, Sheppard told aldermen last week the use of automated trucks precludes the need for refuse collectors. The five automated trucks are set to be deployed over the next two years.
Under Sheppard’s proposal, the six refuse workers will be reassigned to the following jobs: one assistant solid waste compliance officer, one additional scale operator at the city’s drop-off facility, one highway supervisor and three public service workers.
According to Sheppard, the compliance officer position would “more quickly respond to reports of illegal dumping” and have a “constant presence in the field” investigating and documenting violations.
The additional scale operator at the drop-off facility would allow public works to reduce customer wait times during peak hours by an estimated 50 percent and staff any approved expansion of hours.
The remaining four positions would become part of a public works Dedicated Action Response Team (DART), created to quickly address issues such as sidewalk maintenance, pothole filling and paving preparation, parks and medians cleanup, weed control and any special projects identified by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
“No employees will be downgraded or eliminated as a result of these changes,” Sheppard wrote in a memo to board members.
Members of Manchester Proud — a citizens’ coalition committed to uniting the Queen City behind an aspirational vision for its school system — have scheduled two town hall-style meetings later this month.
The meetings are planned for Jan. 23 at Manchester Memorial High School, 1 Crusader Way, and Jan. 30 at Manchester High School West, 9 Notre Dame Ave. Both sessions are scheduled to run from 6-7:30 p.m.
Attendees can expect to hear about the work the group has completed, what’s next and how those interested can get involved.
If you’ve gone by Sweeney Park recently, your eyes don’t deceive you — a pirate ship has docked at the popular West Side play area.
Don Pinard, chief of parks, recreation and cemeteries, said crews were able to install a pirate ship playground during a stretch of warmer weather in late November and early December.
Pinard reports the pirate ship will be “christened” with a grand reopening celebration sometime in the spring.