This is not what anyone was expecting as Carl P. Paladino took his place on the Buffalo School Board. It was Superintendent Pamela C. Brown who raised eyebrows, with her plan to expand the central office and to change the titles of several positions. One demands an explanation, the other, suppression of laughter.
The biggest problem with Brown’s staff changes is that she didn’t explain them in any way that was actually communicative. There was a slide show, color-coded even, but it included no names, no comparative information and, generally, none of the detail that would allow the public to understand what it all meant or even what it would cost.
And no explanations were forthcoming. Whether that reflects design or obliviousness, it was symptomatic of Brown’s secretive approach to running a troubled school district.
The bottom line, though, is that while Brown says she has saved the district $1 million through organizational changes, and that the changes were meant to “reduce excessive high/mid level management positions,” interim Deputy Superintendent Mary Guinn said the central office is expected to grow by five net positions. Is that correct? Is it necessary or wise? The district is already facing the loss of millions of dollars in aid because of its attempt to game the system on teacher evaluations. And former Superintendent James A. Williams came in for well-deserved criticism for expanding the central office staff. Is Brown expanding it again? She’s not telling, at least not so far.
She needs to. No one would argue with her right – it’s a necessity, really – to remake a central office staff that is complicit in the district’s failure to thrive. But Brown seems to resent the notion that she needs to explain herself to the public, which is part of the deal. She leads a massive, tax-supported school district that spends more than three-quarters of a billion dollars a year. Not only does the public deserve to know how that money is being used, Brown needs the public on her side if she is to turn the district around. Disdain doesn’t help.
While adding jobs, Brown is also rebranding several positions. The district’s human resources director will henceforth be known as “chief of talent management” (no moonlighting at Shea’s), while the district’s three community superintendents – they directly supervise the district’s 50 schools – are being rechristened as “chief of school leadership.” And a fourth chief is being added. No word yet if any of the new central office positions will be the Chief in Charge of Renaming Positions.
Well, OK. It’s fine to update position names, as long as it’s accompanied by some refinement of mission or some greater accountability for results. We don’t know if that has happened because Brown won’t tell us, but if it hasn’t, this is nothing more than cosmetics.
Perhaps the best news to come out of Monday’s inaugural meeting of the board was that its new president, member at large Barbara A. Seals Nevergold, wants to improve communication with the public and encourage more transparency. Those goals are not only admirable, but essential if the district is to improve its performance.
She needs to make sure the superintendent gets the memo.