Superintendent Carol Birks said she’s currently doing the job of seven people and needs to hire other administrators who can help her keep up.
Birks made that pitch Monday afternoon to the Board of Education’s Finance & Operations Committee at the district’s Meadow Street headquarters, before presenting plans for an administrative shakeup that has already led to one employee resignation and five job postings.
The superintendent argued that more staff in central office could have helped the district avoid a $20 million budget shortfall, paperwork problems with part-time employees, and unaccountable contractors.
But without a price tag attached to her plan, school board members held off from saying whether they’ll approve the proposed hires.
Birks has already eliminated five roles — the talent supervisor (whose grant-funded position ran out of money) and four instructional directors — and asked the employees to reapply for new jobs. One director, Madeline Negron, submitted her resignation.
The restructured cabinet will include a deputy superintendent, a general counsel, a chief of staff, a chief financial officer, a chief operating officer, and a chief of talent and labor relations.
The deputy superintendent will also oversee four assistant superintendents: three for instructional leadership and one for early childhood education. In the new plan, the principals’ bosses will be moved outside the administrators union. Currently, the directors of instruction manage their fellow members, but as assistant superintendents, they’ll be more independent, Birks said.
“They should be looking at the system at large,” Birks said. “It’s hard to do that inside the union, when you’re advocating for your own members. Whereas, if you’re outside of that, I need people that can negotiate policy and budget with the unions.”
Compared to former Superintendent Garth Harries’s 2015 chart, Birks’s lays out a clearer hierarchy. Two cabinet-level positions under Harries, the director of student services and the director of family and community engagement, will both drop down a level. And the instructional directors overseeing school principals will now answer to a deputy superintendent.
As Birks has currently envisioned it, the top-level administration that Harries built will shrink by one spot. ( Birks said she may add an additional administrator for extra school supports.)
But in the coming months, that will still mean she has to make a lot of hires. That’s because, during Reggie Mayo’s stint in the interim, most positions went vacant. The district has been running without a chief financial officer to watch over the budget, a chief academic officer to plan the curriculum, nor a chief of staff to manage external relations.
“We’re just not organized in a way that we can really move the district forward,” Birks said.
The staffing changes are being matched up to state accountability standards, Birks said. Those dozen metrics, including math and reading scores, enrollment in advanced courses or vocational training, and chronic absenteeism and graduation rates, will be placeholders until a 70-member transition team completes its recommendations for where Birks should focus her attention.
“The board hasn’t determined its priorities, and the superintendent has not set goals yet,” Birks said. “But we do know the state is going to measure us based on those 12 accountability standards. In the absence of having our set priorities now, we’re operating under the guidance of the state.”
Birks said she’s doing that by elevating certain responsibilities. The chief of staff will transform the school choice office that runs the magnet school lottery into a one-stop “welcome center” for parents, the deputy superintendent will oversee the consolidated alternative school that Birks is calling an “opportunity program,” and an assistant superintendent for early childhood education will make sure there’s a coherent plan in place for all pre-kindergarten programs.
“Just because I mentioned those offices does not mean we’re going to hire 25 people this year. But we need structures around who’s responsible for these things,” Birks said. “Right now, we say, ‘Who does this?’ and I get a lot of silence or ‘I don’t know.’ As an organization, we ned to make sure that people know who does the work and what the work is.”
Birks said she didn’t yet have a dollar figure for the reorganization. Jamell Cotto, the committee vice-chair, asked her to crunch that number by next week’s full board meeting, saying it will help his colleagues decide whether the changes are worth it.
After the meeting, Darnell Goldson, the board president, said he was still reviewing the proposed changes, but he explained that he didn’t want more money going to administrators than Harries had spent.
“I’m sticking to my position that we’re not going to grow central office,” Goldson said. “We need to see what the dollars are now and what the dollars are going to be with the new [organizational chart]. If everybody has to do with less, then central office has to do with less also.”
Goldson added that a chief financial officer and a head of early childhood education both seemed like essential positions for this transition, but he said he needed to review whether they could afford all the other positions.
“Some of those other things, we may not need right now,” Goldson said.