When Superintendent Pamela Brown in March said that she was going to shake up the central administration for Buffalo Public Schools, she said her new model would provide stronger supports in the schools while cutting “excessive high/mid-level management positions” and saving money.
Last week, Brown outlined her long-awaited reorganization and stated that she accomplished her goals and saved the district $1 million.
Upon closer examination, however, while Brown’s restructuring seems to allocate much more central office staff for school support, it does not appear to be either leaner or cheaper. In fact, the restructuring does not radically change any of the familiar faces in City Hall but instead adds many new ones.
Meanwhile, the district had no complete information on how to account for the $1 million in savings, saying that more changes may be coming.
Brown and interim Deputy Superintendent Mary Guinn have stressed that the advantage of the new organizational model is to make more central office administrators available to schools.
“This is really the cornerstone of the superintendent’s reorganization,” Guinn said.
Yet an additional four or five higher-level positions appear to have been created for the district’s central office, administrators say, and the net difference in positions and money spent on central office salaries is not yet known.
Based on information gathered from Guinn and other school budget and staff officials, the reorganization will:
• Continue to employ nearly all of the existing top-level administrators and promote five of the current executive cabinet members.
• Add four new positions to the superintendent’s executive cabinet. That includes a new chief of public relations, a new executive special assistant to the superintendent, a permanent deputy superintendent and an additional chief of school leadership. Three other administrators will be removed from the cabinet but will keep similar job responsibilities. All will remain employed by the central office, though some may see a scale back in their job descriptions and pay.
• Reshuffle numerous positions and change job titles for many present central office employees. The chief academic officer position, for instance, will now become the chief of curriculum, assessment and instruction, and the deputy director of human resources is now the deputy chief of talent management.
• Change several job titles to reflect additional promotions in the central office. Two director-level positions, for instance, will now be replaced with higher-level assistant superintendents of curriculum, assessment and leadership development.
• Require the hiring of new administrators beyond the superintendent’s cabinet.
The reorganization plan means hiring an additional student placement supervisor and adding four new director positions under the four chiefs of school leadership responsible for providing direct school support. The district has an existing administrator filling one of the four slots. The other three are currently vacant.
The district’s general counsel will be replaced, and a third assistant legal counsel position that has been vacant for at least a year will now be filled. The vacant supervisor of budgets and grants management will also be filled.
In addition, grant money will be used to pay for additional supervising principal positions, human resources personnel, and a new director under the chief of strategic alignment and innovation.
The interim deputy superintendent, who was originally to be replaced with a permanent deputy at the end of May, will also be paid out of the district’s grant funds until the district ends its expanded search and names a successor.
When asked how all these changes and additions lead to savings for the district, Chief Financial Officer Barbara Smith, who will now also serve as the district’s chief operating officer, said the reorganization eliminates 15 positions from the district’s operating budget.
• Ten teachers – four coordinators, four speech and hearing teachers, a central office guidance counselor and a central office social worker – who will be moved out of the central office and into schools to fill vacancies,
• Three eliminated positions, including the director of elementary education, a central office physical therapist who retired and another educational support services position.
• The equivalent of roughly two full-time positions, which will continue to be employed by the district but whose income will be covered by grant funding instead of operating budget.
While these savings would conceivably save the district $1 million from its operating budget, as Brown stated in her news conference last week, costs for the new hires and promotions in the reorganization are not accounted for.
Because the reorganization plan was only recently unveiled, parts of it are still preliminary and subject to change, Guinn said. For that reason, she said, she could not give an exact count of how many net positions were being added or subtracted to the central office.
Similarly, the district was unable to produce a complete financial breakdown of the net costs/savings of Brown’s reorganization following Brown’s announcement of her new administrative team.
Instead of the district’s nearly 60 schools reporting to three community superintendents, who must scramble to provide resources and support for students and staff, the new configuration provides four community superintendents, now renamed “chiefs of school leadership.” Each work will directly with roughly 15 schools.
Each school leadership chief has been assigned more staff who can offer instructional coaching and provide more immediate resources in terms of staffing and budgeting, Guinn said. They have more authority, more staff and more capacity to deliver services to address any need a school has, she said. “This is the one-stop-shop focus of the organization.”
Board President Barbara Seals Nevergold praised the new model as a means of addressing criticism of the district has being “top heavy” in City Hall with people who shuffle papers but don’t contribute to student achievement.
She also praised the $1 million in district savings but had no information on how that savings figure came about.
“With this realignment, Dr. Brown is attempting to put staff in positions where they directly support students and faculty and principals at the school level,” she said. “Now, we are addressing what has been a long-standing criticism by working to develop a staffing pattern that is responsive to the district’s schools, the pupils and the district’s staff.”