The mayoral race is officially under way and if past elections are any indication, be prepared for plenty of heated debate about the city school district.
Though the situation is far from perfect, the district and the city have been working more collaboratively over the past two years than at any other time in recent memory. The constant bickering and barrage of barbs that used to go back and forth between Church Street and West Broad Street have nearly trickled to a stop.
Superintendent Bolgen Vargas, Mayor Tom Richards, and school board President Malik Evans appear to have a good working relationship. Richards has even participated in Vargas’s expeditions to track down truant students. He’s been able to see up close some of the reasons why many students have missed days or even weeks of school this year.
City Council President Lovely Warren, who is running for mayor this year, was a staunch supporter of mayoral control — a bitterly divisive issue for Rochester — when it was proposed by former mayor Bob Duffy. Though she recently said she would not pursue mayoral control if elected, we’ve all seen politicians back up and drive over their campaign promises.
And Warren is a strong supporter of charter schools; news of her possible candidacy broke several weeks ago at an event inside a charter school.
But who can be critical of Warren for her support for mayoral control and charter schools? Warren sees many city school students not graduating or pursuing fulfilling careers despite an annual district budget of approximately $728 million. Richards has recently voiced some concerns about the district’s budget, too.
But Richards and Warren should know by now that applying more pressure to the city school district doesn't produce meaningful results. Warring with the union and blaming teachers for absenteeism or the social ills that often impact student performance hasn’t made teachers more effective or raised student achievement.
The next mayor will likely discover that the district’s students, parents, and teachers crave stability after years of upheavals and change. Vargas, who wouldn’t comment on the mayoral race, has been trying to provide that stability.
Hopefully, he’ll have a partner in the new mayor.