City school officials and school board members say they're taking seriously a package sent to the Democrat and Chronicle containing personal information about school board President Van White.
Though the package's contents were meant to discredit White, the situation has instead become a serious test of leadership for both Superintendent Bolgen Vargas and the board.
If it's determined that a trust has been broken, it could be difficult to rebuild and move on. And the situation could lead to several troubling outcomes.
To recap, the D&C recently received documents that revealed personal financial and legal information about White. Though this information is new, White's past financial problems are well-known. An anonymous note accompanied the documents that said, "He can't manage himself. How can he manage a school district?"
The information, which is public record and pulled from the Monroe County Clerk's website, showed Patrick Malgieri as the log-in name used to access the county's site. Malgieri is a prominent Rochester-area attorney and the spouse of Patricia Malgieri, who is Vargas's chief of staff. The Malgieris say they didn't send the package and they don't know who did.
Vargas quickly came to Patricia Malgieri's defense. The two have been friends for a long time, and Vargas withstood considerable criticism when he hired her. Malgieri was a harsh critic of the district when she worked at City Hall as deputy mayor.
The package arrived at a time when Vargas is under fire from the Association of Supervisors and Administrators, the union that represents the district's principals and administrators, over his management style. Few board members publicly rushed to Vargas's defense when ASAR members voted no confidence in the superintendent last month.
Vargas issued a statement in response to the package story. In it, he says that while he is concerned that someone would try to discredit White and Malgieri, that "to spend time and resources on speculation and investigation only plays in to the hands of whoever did this. From a public perspective, it would only inflame a non-story about President White. Internally, it would continue a pattern of distraction from this district's essential work to serve the neediest students and families in our community."
That sounds like a reasonable position, but it doesn't override the public's right to know what really happened. This is a serious offense. It's unfair to tell rank-and-file teachers that they must be held accountable for their performance if problems involving senior management are treated differently.
Former school board president Malik Evans said in a phone interview this week that just because the board hasn't been public about its concerns, doesn't mean it isn't doing anything about the package mystery. That may be true, but the public and the board would be better served by greater transparency so that it doesn't appear that concerns about causing a distraction are used as a distraction.
The board also can't be afraid to follow the trail, wherever it leads.