Focus                                                           Page 12


Streamlining Central-Office




 Louis Pepe
At a time of serious budget cuts, it is incumbent for those of us at the executive level to ensure we have the necessary personnel to accomplish our school district’s mission. Absent clear, thoughtful practices for staffing, we run the risk of impeding progress in our schools. We also risk a far more serious situation, resulting in breakdowns in operational efficiency and service or procedural violations that will be cited in annual financial audits.

Simultaneously, we need to be mindful of opportunities to reduce expenses through attrition by redistributing workloads and eliminating unnecessary or obsolete tasks and positions.

Our school district, which serves 4,100 students in central New Jersey, has conducted a thorough assessment of existing practices, procedures and services, which allows us to budget resources to support supervisors and administrators while ensuring classrooms, buildings and grounds are clean, safe, secure and conducive to learning.

Staffing Cuts
To increase efficiency in the district’s central operations in cost-effective ways, we developed recommendations for creating, eliminating and retaining positions. This review process requires effective communication, support and teamwork through collaboration of cabinet-level administrators and the superintendent.

The district’s management group effectively applied this process over the past three years, yielding reductions of two full-time positions with benefits to part-time posts with no benefits and elimination of a part-time engineer/environmental technician. We also eliminated two full-time secretarial positions, one in the office of the superintendent and another in special services.

Notably, these personnel reductions took place during a time frame when student enrollment continued to grow and the district opened two new primary centers. The latter additions brought the district’s facility count to nine schools, including five elementary schools, one middle school and one high school.

Dispassionate Analysis
Simply eliminating positions for cost cutting demands a closer look at the opportunity costs associated with such rash decisions. Downsizing as a quick fix to reduce personnel costs has irreparable consequences, as positions eliminated often cannot be restored easily by school districts facing reduced state and federal aid, tax-levy caps and anti-public-spending sentiment.

Today’s mind-set of doing more with less has become a reality of concern over maintaining existing programs and services. However, consider the alternative — using strategic planning for expansion and retention of quality staffing levels to meet the needs of current and future operations. In this regard, public education is a business that requires proper planning for effective management.

A favorite book on this topic is Dwight Gertz and João Baptista’s Grow to be Great: Breaking the Downsizing Cycle. These authors say: “Managers must move beyond the current wave of downsizing, restructuring and reengineering.” Contrary to current management fads, they contend organizations must grow to be great, adding, “Managers now involved in downsizing must consider long-term goals for growth alongside short-term measures for slimming.”

As managers of a school district, we must prepare adequate analysis, absent emotional responses, to support legitimate recommendations to sustain and benefit the operation of schools. This process begins with an administrative analysis of current staffing and assignment of responsibilities related to each aspect of the central office.

Start by reviewing the various responsibilities and areas of operation with members of the administrative team. All staffing decisions must include the capacity to reassign, train and maintain the necessary administrative oversight for these various functions. Each staff position must be considered along with all active positions within the group and the wider operation based on efficiency, cost justification, support benefit and current workload of the particular office and central office as a whole.

Louis Pepe is the school business administrator and board secretary for the Summit Public Schools in Summit, N.J. He blogs at http://businessedissues.blogspot.com. E-mail: lpepe@fc.summit.k12.nj.us 


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