Ronald Reagan said it best: Trust, but verify. He was referring to the former Soviet Union, but the axiom well applies to the statements of any public bureaucracy, in this case the Buffalo School District and its claims to have saved a million dollars.
Superintendent Pamela C. Brown says the administrative changes she has made in the district’s central office have already saved the district $1 million – not chump change, even in an $800 million-a-year operation. Yet she hasn’t publicly documented those savings, and other district officials could provide no complete accounting of them.
So, superintendent: Prove it. Verify.
Just no one hold your breath waiting for it.
Brown shows no interest in letting the public know what is going on in the district. There seems to be no understanding of the need to venture outside the bubble and, by doing so, treating parents and taxpayers with the respect they deserve and simultaneously building trust and support among those constituencies.
Indeed, under Brown’s leadership the district has struck out in the opposite direction, making secret, improper deals with the teachers union in a devious effort to get around the state’s requirements for producing a teacher evaluation system. Those kinds of maneuvers matter; if they don’t reap a harvest of doubt, they certainly plant the seeds.
Is this more of the same? Brown says she has saved $1 million, but from where? Is that net savings, or cost reductions before incurring additional costs that diminish or wipe out the savings? Who can know?
Based on interviews and available information, News reporter Sandra Tan found that the reorganization of staff produced no significant change of personnel in the central office – except for adding many new members. That’s not the usual way administrators save $1 million. Indeed, the appearance is that the staff has become larger and more expensive.
Specifically, the reorganization appears to:
• Continue to employ nearly all of the existing top-level administrators while promoting five executive cabinet members.
• Add four positions to the superintendent’s executive cabinet while removing three administrators from the cabinet. Those individuals will retain similar responsibilities, but some may have their job descriptions changed and their pay reduced.
• Reshuffle numerous positions and change job titles for many present central office employees.
• Change several job titles to reflect additional promotions in the central office.
• Require the hiring of new administrators beyond the superintendent’s cabinet.
On the flip side, 10 teachers will be moved out of the central office and into schools to fill vacancies. Three positions have been eliminated while two others will be funded with grants rather than the district’s operating budget.
It is entirely possible, of course, that these are worthy changes. The idea of moving teachers out of the central office and into schools is certainly a likeable one. And perhaps the additions to the top administrative staff are defensible, as well. And while education is already expensive in New York, worthwhile change sometimes comes with a price tag. In this case, though, who can tell?
Communicating with the public may not be Brown’s first obligation – fixing a broken school system takes that spot – but public support is one of the pillars needed to accomplish that heavy lift. If she is to succeed as superintendent, then her supporters on the School Board and in the community need to make sure she understands the need to communicate what is happening in the district and, in this case, what she means when she says that she has saved the district $1 million when she expanded the staff.