In a move some hope will reverse a decline in the school district’s delivery of key services, the Board of Education approved an administrative structure change last week.
In essence, the board moved to bring all its separate departments such as facilities, maintenance, budget and fiscal services and nutrition services under the leadership of one high-level person who will report directly to the superintendent.
The new position, to be known as Associate Superintendent of Business Services and Operations, is expected to be filled some time this summer by incoming Superintendent Michele Barraza Lawrence. This gives the district’s new leader an opportunity to be involved in the selection of one of her most important lieutenants, said School Board President Terry Doran.
Under a reorganization carried out at the end of last year, the district had split its administrative departments into two separate chains of command, with some reporting to the associate superintendent of support services while others reported to a chief financial officer.
The board’s vote Wednesday eliminates these two positions, essentially reinstating the administrative structure that existed before the change last year.
Interim Superintendent Stephen Goldstone argued that last year’s change resulted in a “top-heavy” administrative structure where departments that needed to carefully coordinate their work were managed by separate individuals.
“The reorganization moves in the direction of combining related functions,” Goldstone said in a report to the board.
For example, under last year’s reorganization, the district’s Facilities Construction Department began reporting to one manager while its maintenance department reported to another, a move Goldstone and others said made little sense given the need to coordinate between maintenance and facilities’ departments to avoid duplication of efforts and other inefficiencies.
Nancy Riddle, a parent who sits on two budgetary advisory committees in the school district, said of the changes: “When I first looked at it I went, ‘Oh, thank goodness.’ Maintenance and facilities need to go hand and hand to be the most efficient and to make the best use of funds.”
A litany of complaints have been leveled at the district over the last year, including claims that it has failed to provide important educational materials to school sites in a timely manner, failed to provide adequate maintenance to school buildings, grounds and equipment, failed to assess and train teachers adequately, and failed even to give the school board the budget information it needed to make sound decisions.
“No one is blaming it on an individual or individuals, but we’ve had a system that is not working for a number of reasons and for a number of years,” said School Board Director John Selawsky late last week.
Some of the reorganization approved Wednesday could begin to get at some of these problems, according to school sources.
For example, the Data Processing Department, Technology Department and cable installing component of the Facilities Department will be combined into one Department of Technological Support, reporting directly to the superintendent.
School Board Vice-president Shirley Issel said such changes make it at least possible that certain key services provided by the central office will be improved. But Issel added that organizational changes alone won’t immediately erase problems that have become entrenched over time.
“The real meat of the thing is going to come in the implementation,” Issel said.