After several administrative meetings over the last week, resulting in revisions and recalculations, it now appears that Superintendent Pamela C. Brown’s Central Office reorganization will increase the Buffalo Public Schools’ payroll by more than $1.1 million.
When employee benefits are added, the cost to taxpayers would be about $1.6 million.
That’s about half what a Buffalo News analysis reported last week, but still in sharp contrast to the $1 million to $2 million in savings that Brown touted when she talked about the reorganization over the spring and summer. Nevertheless, school officials insist they’re saving money by shifting costs to state and federal grants.
Since The News’ analysis was published Sept. 29, district leaders said that the reorganization rolled out during the summer continued to be “in flux.”
Based on the latest information provided, it appears that Brown’s reorganization plan:
• Adds 23 new union jobs to the Central Office, instead of 39. About $1 million of the additional payroll cost comes from additions to the newly created Offices of School Leadership.
This is on top of three new high-level, non-union positions created as part of the reorganization, and the filling of an additional position that had been long vacant, for an additional personnel cost of $443,000.
Brown said that many of the additional Central Office positions would be responsible for providing more direct support to principals as a “one-stop shop” to resolve issues that crop up in school buildings.
• Shuffles 21 existing Central Office staff members into different positions. Some of these positions previously had been listed as “new” positions by the district but were later determined to be lateral moves, with pay changes in some cases.
Brown and her administrators contend that her reorganization plan saves the district money because 22 of the new Central Office positions are either partly or entirely grant-funded. The district also cut Central Office positions in other areas.
With some other offsetting administrative cuts and nearly $649,000 in former operating budget positions moved into grants, administrators say the changes save the district’s general fund nearly $1.5 million in salaries and benefits.
“I stand by the million-dollar savings,” responded Chief Financial Officer Barbara J. Smith. “I know we don’t agree on what you call savings, but anything we save in operations and maintenance is something we can redirect to the classroom.”
The grant money being used to support new positions comes from state and federal taxpayers. Therefore, the bottom-line impact of the reorganization is that more taxpayer-funded jobs are being created.
Even after accounting for offsetting personnel savings, district payroll costs are growing by $1.6 million overall. That reality is unchanged by the funding sources the district uses.
Given the fact that the district was, at one point, facing a $54 million operating budget deficit for 2013-14, both Smith and the superintendent contend that the ability to shift personnel costs to grant money remains significant.
“When we’re moving stuff to grants, it’s not just willy-nilly,” Smith said. “It’s ‘What are the priorities to the district?’ ”
In this case, she said, it’s adding more Central Office staff that can provide direct support to schools to address criticism that the administration is sluggish when providing resources to schools.
Cutting costs was never the main priority of the reorganization, Brown said. “I envisioned providing additional support to the schools, which is what we have done,” she said.
While cutting costs may not have been the main purpose of the reorganization, it was one of several goals. In March, Brown stated that the reorganization would conservatively save the district $2.1 million.
Three months later, she revised her estimate and said that it would save more than $1 million, later clarifying that these would be savings to the general fund.
The scope and cost of the reorganization have been difficult to calculate because the reorganization continues to change, and because the superintendent and top district administrators were unaware of all the staffing changes until they finally worked together to make those determinations this past week.
The final structure, particularly the superintendent’s Executive Cabinet and the four new Offices of School Leadership, was supposed to be finalized and in place prior to the start of this school year, according to Scott Joftus, whose consulting company, Cross & Joftus, worked with Brown to design the new organizational model.
But the structure of the Offices of School Leadership has continued to change through this past week.
Back in July, for instance, the organizational model called for 32 instructional coaches and supervisors – eight serving under each of the four new supervising principals.
Two weeks ago, The News was told that there would be only 16 instructional coaches and specialists serving under two supervising principals.
Then this past week, that number crept back to 20.
“When they had the eight positions per chief of school leadership, that was the Cadillac version,” Smith said. “We looked at that and said, ‘We can’t afford that.’ It’s been continually changing, from my perspective.”
District administrators updated their information over the last week, as they held special meetings to make sure staff is up to speed on the latest personnel adjustments.
More changes may be coming. Candidates continue to be interviewed and hired for open positions and to offer their own staffing opinions, the administrators said.
Brown stressed that the instructional coaches who have been added are teaching positions, not ones that will be spending time in the Central Office.
“They would be out in the schools, working directly with the teachers to improve instruction in the classroom,” Brown said. “When you talk about mid- and high-level management, these coaches are not mid- and high-level management.”
She also said the district has added far more positions in school buildings than within the Central Office for this school year.
“If you look at the increase in services and personnel at the school level,” she said, “it greatly outweighs anything that we have added or changed … at the Central Office level.”