Birks’ Shakeup Begins

Christopher Peak PhotoSuperintendent 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.

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posted by: Noteworthy on June 5, 2018  9:46am

Not Reorganized Enough - Streamline. Still too top heavy - with people answering to other people. Eliminate.

posted by: 1644 on June 5, 2018  9:49am

The current deficit was baked into the budget with pie-in-the-sky revenue estimates adopted by Mayor Harp.  The Mayor’s budget presumed massive increases in state aid, even though it was obvious long before the adoption of the budget that no massive increase would be coming.

posted by: Ozzie on June 5, 2018  1:13pm

Appears that she wants to clean house , but then wants to hire more people. Looks like this will cost the taxpayers more in the long run

posted by: Timothy G. ORourke Jr. on June 5, 2018  1:19pm

How about a story about that artwork in the background?  They look great!

posted by: FacChec on June 5, 2018  1:47pm

Your right Goldson.. now fight for your belief and your stated position….
‘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.”

Folks are watching..

posted by: RHeerema on June 5, 2018  2:29pm

CFO! CFO! Hire a Chief Financial Officer ASAP! We need more transparency and regular budgetary reporting.

posted by: JohnDVelleca on June 5, 2018  5:32pm

A quick juxtaposition of organizational charts should speak loudly about who this new superintendent is…check who is listed at the top of her chart and who was listed at the top of Harries chart.  Subtle, yet very important difference.  Let this woman do her thing and support her.

posted by: NHLearner on June 5, 2018  8:33pm

Comparing the two charts… Harries had 12-13 people reporting to him (all the directors of instruction, chief of staff, student services, curr/inst, talent, youth/family, operations, choice, finance)  ...
Birks chart has 5 , with the deputy super having a bunch of these as reports . Seems more like she wants to shift the blame down .

I don’t like that my principal is four levels down from the superintendent, that doesn’t bode well.

posted by: Disgust on June 5, 2018  10:48pm

It looks like Birks assumes the board will approve these positions since they have already been posted for candidates to apply since last week.  Assistant superintenedent of early childhood was just posted today for applicants after the board meeting last night.  Seems strange that the positions were posted before the organizational plan was released.  Also are these all new hires?  The positions were posted for internal and external candidates.

posted by: Honest in New Haven on June 6, 2018  7:37am

Supt Birks:  You do not need more administrators at Central Office.  What you do need is for more of those Administrators to actually do meaningful work!

posted by: Intheknow on June 7, 2018  8:39am

I’ve seen the job descriptions for the Assistant Superintendent positions. Why are we paying Birks $245,000 to be on the “balcony” while everyone else does her job. Birks has no respect for the Board. What qualified applicants will apply for positions that have not been approved by the Board? Birks knows who she will place in those positions—Hartford or Bridgeport rejects. She gets rid of our Directors and humiliates them, but Dr. Negron secured a top level position in Hartford. Why wouldn’t Birks keep Dr. Negron for NHPS. Dr. Birks is NOT about the students in New Haven but she is using NHPS as a stepping stone to further her career. All she has done so for is bring staff morale to an all time low. She is a bully to the principals on the front lines and she is gearing up to fight the unions. The Board should not approve those positions so they can actually see what Birks, herself, brings to the table without hiding behind staff.

posted by: fastdriver on June 9, 2018  10:40pm

I believe this board NEEDS a FORENSIC audit to see exactly where all the money is going! How do you run a school system this size with NO chief financial officer? Something smells here and something needs to be done SOONER rather then later!

posted by: NHPS101 on June 10, 2018  9:40pm

I really like Dr. Birks Organizational Chart. I’m just interested in who she’s going to hire for these positions. There’s a lot of names floating around for certain positions like the Chief Of Staff and Deputy Superintendent. It’s going to be a very interesting summer.  Hope she doesn’t just hire people from her Sorority group. Mmmmmmmmmmmm