Thursday, November 22, 2018

Five areas, not eight, and other structural changes to the Hillsborough school district

Superintendent Jeff Eakins' reorganization of the Hillsborough County School District has something for everyone: A promotion (but no immediate raise) for the facilities chief, a bureaucracy to support 49 struggling schools, and enough savings to give teachers hope for a raise.

Eakins released details of his plan in an email to school employees on Monday, the day before it comes before the School Board. The board does not have to approve the reorganization, it is an information item on Tuesday's meeting agenda.

The Sway presentation seeks to reassure employees that the district is on more solid financial footing, and to counter harsh criticism from leaders of its teachers' union. Year-long negotiations over teacher pay broke off last week, with the two sides more than $30 million apart over terms of the 2018-19 contract.

While union leaders say Eakins has protected administrative jobs while slashing teacher positions and freezing pay, the report issued Monday states that between cuts since 2016 and those planned for the coming year, "we will have eliminated 22 percent of all our district administrator positions."

At the very top, Eakins is not replacing Alberto Vazquez, his former chief of staff. Instead, he will have two deputy superintendents: Van Ayres and Chris Farkas, who is being promoted from his job as chief operating officer. Farkas will not be replaced, but will keep his responsibilities along with some additional ones.

Two assistant superintendent positions will be eliminated, saving more money. Wynne Tye and Larry Sykes are leaving their positions at the end of the school year.

Marie Whelan, who replaced the fired Stephanie Woodford as human resources chief on an interim basis, will be given the job permanently.

Note: "Mr. Farkas and Dr. Whelan will not receive any pay increase until after negotiations with our unions are complete."

Area superintendents Michelle Fitzgerald and Shaylia McRae will be placed in charge of 49 low-performing schools that are now part of the "Achievement Schools" project. This is Eakins' third and by far most ambitious effort to level the playing field for children of poverty, providing extra resources to their schools in a three-tiered system that corresponds with the state's turnaround system.

And, because so many schools will leave the eight administrative areas, there will now only be five areas, each with its own area superintendent and staff.

To conserve money in the district's general fund, Eakins is reclassifying some of his human resource partners, elementary generalists and principal coaches to a new position called "Support Specialist." These changes will do two things: They will redirect the employees' work toward the Achievement schools, and they will use other funding sources, such as the federal anti-poverty grants, and therefore protect the general fund's reserve.

The whole plan, which takes the workforce from 25,173 to 24,335, should save enough money so that teacher raises will be possible again.

"We knew this was something we had to do as an organization," Eakins said. "But as we do this, let's do this for the betterment of the schools and to support the employees."

Eakins also said he plans to bring up the issue of a tax referendum on Tuesday. "Not to do it, just to say that I'd like to explore and do some discovery around it."

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