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City says bureaucracy reorganization will save $13 million

Department of Education officials are framing the latest reorganization of how schools receive support as a money-saving measure brought on by difficult financial times.

In a letter sent to school principals last week, Chief Schools Officer Eric Nadelstern offers more details on what the reorganization will look like and puts the savings at $13 million. The savings will come, in part, through the elimination of 80 administrative positions, Chancellor Joel Klein told network leaders last week.

Last week, I reported that the DOE is planning to dismantle the Integrated Service Centers in each borough — places principals turn to when they need help with budgeting and the paperwork that comes along with special education and safety regulation compliance. In place of ISCs, principals will work with Children First Networks, small groups of about a dozen DOE employees who work directly with schools’ existing support organizations.

Another element of the reorganization is the dissolution of the city’s School Support Organizations and their rebirth as six new networks. In his letter, Nadelstern assures principals they’ll likely be working with same people as they do now. Many of the new network leaders, such as Judith Chin and Jose Ruiz, currently oversee support organizations. Others include Vincent Brevetti, Vincent Clark, Anthony Conelli, and Deborah Maldonado.

Nonprofits that run their own support organizations, such as New Visions and Replications, Inc., will continue to do so until their contracts expire in 2011.

Clara Hemphill, senior editor at the New School’s Center for NYC Affairs, has mapped out the many reorganizations the DOE’s bureaucracy has done through under Klein.

Dear Colleagues,

As you know, in this challenging budget climate, we are all being asked to do more with less. While schools are currently finding ways to reduce their budgets by one percent, central and field budgets are being cut by 2.5 percent, including a five percent reduction in headcount which follows last year’s eight percent reduction in headcount. As difficult as this climate can be, it has also provided an opportunity for the Division of School Support (DSS) to take a look at how we provide support to our schools. Our goal is to provide the highest quality services at the lowest cost while maintaining our focus on providing you with the supports you need to improve student achievement. To accomplish this goal, we are going to maintain networks as the primary support for schools and drive maximum resources to the network teams. We will do this by:

* Expanding the Children First Network (CFN) model to all networks citywide

* Transitioning operational supports from Integrated Service Centers (ISCs) to networks as of June 2010

* Consolidating the School Support Organizations into six smaller management teams, which will each oversee 10 CFN networks of approximately 250 schools; schools that work with Partnership Support Organizations will continue to do so and there will be similar CFN alignment to the PSOs. This consolidation will eliminate duplication of services across the ISCs, networks, SSOs, and central offices. It is a critical step that will save approximately $13 million dollars that otherwise would have been pulled from school budgets. This will help reduce the need for even deeper school-based cuts.

I understand how important stability is to your relationships with your network team. You will remain in the same network, work with the same network leader, and, in most cases, your network leader will continue to report to the same person. Also, until the ISCs transition in June, you will continue to work with ISC staff except in those cases where the network is already CFN.

This spring, you will have the opportunity to help your network leaders hire additional instructional and operational support staff for your network team for the 2010-2011 school year. For the following school year, you will participate in a network-based selection process and will be able to switch networks in July 2011 based on your specific and changing needs. There are over 500 schools that already work under the CFN structure and their experience leads me to believe that by expanding this model system wide, we will increase efficiency, service quality, and overall principal satisfaction. I am confident that by further empowering those closest to schools, we will enable even more of our students to succeed. If you have any questions about this transition, feel free to email me, discuss with your network leader or e-mail DSSquestions@schools.nyc.gov.

Sincerely,

Eric Nadelstern

Chief Schools Officer

first steps

Superintendent León secures leadership team, navigates evolving relationship with board

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Superintendent Roger León at Tuesday's school board meeting.

As Newark’s new superintendent prepares for the coming academic year, the school board approved the final members of his leadership team Tuesday and began piecing together a roadmap to guide his work.

The board confirmed three assistant superintendents chosen by Superintendent Roger León: Jose Fuentes, the principal of First Avenue School in the North Ward; Sandra Rodriguez, a Hoboken principal who previously oversaw Newark Public Schools’ early childhood office; and Mario Santos, principal of East Side High School in the East Ward. They join three other assistant superintendents León selected for his team, along with a deputy superintendent, chief of staff, and several other officials.

The three assistant superintendents confirmed Tuesday had first come before the board in June, but at that time none of them secured enough votes to be approved. During last month’s meeting, the board assented to several of León’s leadership picks and to his decision to remove many people from the district’s central office, but it also blocked him from ousting several people.

This week, Board Chair Josephine Garcia declined to comment on the board’s reversal, and León did not respond to a request for comment.

What is clear is that the board and León are still navigating their relationship.

In February, the board regained local control of the district 22 years after the state seized control of the district due to poor performance and mismanagement. The return to local control put the board back in charge of setting district policy and hiring the superintendent, who previously answered only to the state. Still, the superintendent, not the board, is responsible for overseeing the district’s day-to-day operations.

During a board discussion Tuesday, Garcia hinted at that delicate balance of power.

“Now that we’re board members, we want to make sure that, of course, yes, we’re going to have input and implementation,” but that they don’t overstep their authority, she said.

Under state rules, the board is expected to develop district goals and policies, which the superintendent is responsible for acting on. But León — a former principal who spent the past decade serving as an assistant superintendent — has his own vision for the district, which he hopes to convince the board to support, he said in a recent interview on NJTV.

“It’s my responsibility as the new superintendent of schools to compel them to assist the district moving in the direction that I see as appropriate,” he said.

Another matter still being ironed out by the board and superintendent is communication.

León did not notify the full board before moving to force out 31 district officials and administrators, which upset some members. And he told charter school leaders in a closed-door meeting that he plans to keep intact the single enrollment system for district and charter schools — a controversial policy the board is still reviewing.

The district has yet to make a formal announcement about the staff shake-up, including the appointment of León’s new leadership team. And when the board voted on the new assistant superintendents Tuesday, it used only the appointed officials’ initials — not their full names. However, board member Leah Owens stated the officials’ full names when casting her vote.

The full names, titles and salaries of public employees are a matter of public record under state law.

Earlier, board member Yambeli Gomez had proposed improved communication as a goal for the board.

“Not only communication within the board and with the superintendent,” she said, “but also communication with the public in a way that’s more organized.”

The board spent much of Tuesday’s meeting brainstorming priorities for the district.

Members offered a grab bag of ideas, which were written on poster paper. Under the heading “student achievement,” they listed literacy, absenteeism, civics courses, vocational programs, and teacher quality, among other topics. Under other “focus areas,” members suggested classroom materials, parent involvement, and the arts.

Before the school year begins in September, León is tasked with shaping the ideas on that poster paper into specific goals and an action plan.

After the meeting, education activist Wilhelmina Holder said she hopes the board will focus its attention on a few key priorities.

“There was too much of a laundry list,” she said.

early dismissals

Top Newark school officials ousted in leadership shake-up as new superintendent prepares to take over

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Incoming Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León

Several top Newark school officials were given the option Friday to resign or face termination, in what appeared to be an early move by incoming Superintendent Roger León to overhaul the district’s leadership.

The shake-up includes top officials such as the chief academic officer and the head of the district’s controversial enrollment system, as well as lower-level administrators — 31 people in total, according to documents and district employees briefed on the overhaul. Most of the officials were hired or promoted by the previous two state-appointed superintendents, Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf, a sign that León wants to steer the district in a new direction now that it has returned to local control.

The officials were given the option to resign by Tuesday and accept buyouts or face the prospect of being fired by the school board at its meeting that evening. The buyouts offer a financial incentive to those who resign voluntarily on top of any severance included in their contracts. In exchange for accepting the buyouts, the officials must sign confidentiality agreements and waive their right to sue the district.

Earlier this week, León submitted a list of his choices to replace the ousted cabinet-level officials, which the board must approve at its Tuesday meeting. It’s not clear whether he has people lined up to fill the less-senior positions.

It’s customary for incoming superintendents to appoint new cabinet members and reorganize the district’s leadership structure, which usually entails replacing some personnel. However, many staffers were caught off guard by Friday’s dismissals since León has given little indication of how he plans to restructure the central office — and he does not officially take the reins of the district until July 1.

A district spokeswoman and the school board chair did not immediately respond to emails on Friday about the shake-up.

Some staffers speculated Friday that the buyout offers were a way for León to replace the district’s leadership without securing the school board’s approval because, unlike with terminations, the board does not need to sign off on resignations. However, it’s possible the board may have to okay any buyout payments. And it could also be the case that the buyouts were primarily intended to help shield the district from legal challenges to the dismissals.

León was not present when the staffers learned Friday afternoon that they were being let go, the employees said. Instead, the interim superintendent, Robert Gregory, and other top officials broke the news, which left some stunned personnel crying and packing their belongings into boxes. They received official separation letters by email later that day.

The people being ousted include Chief Academic Officer Brad Haggerty and Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, who oversees enrollment. Also included are top officials in the curriculum, early childhood, and finance divisions, among others, according to a list obtained by Chalkbeat.

In addition to the 31 being pushed out, several assistant superintendents are being demoted but will remain in the district, according to the district employees.

There was concern among some officials Friday about whether the turnover would disrupt planning for the coming school year.

“I don’t know how we’re going to open smoothly with cuts this deep,” one of the employees said. “Little to no communication was provided to the teams about what these cuts mean for the many employees who remain in their roles and need leadership guidance and direction Monday morning.”