Nearly $100K in savings eyed in Portland schools administrative shuffle

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PORTLAND — The School Department says a reorganization of administrators is expected to save nearly $100,000 a year, provide more consistent educational programming and increase accountability.

The reorganization, part of the proposed $89.3 million budget now working its way through the school Finance Committee, is part of the superintendent’s effort to move away from site-based school management.

“It’s a pretty massive reorganization,” Superintendent of Schools James C. Morse Sr. said. “There is very little accountability in the current system.”

The plan calls for the creation of three new administrative positions and the elimination of five others, including two assistant superintendents. Although one of those positions is empty, the other is held by Jill Blackwood, who is resigning at the end of the year.

Other positions that would be eliminated include the educational planning director, the coordinator of safety and benefits and the special education director. They would be replaced by two coordinator positions.

The new positions include a chief academic officer, a chief finance officer and a chief operations officer.

The academic officer would oversee academic performance, programming and professional development, and state and federal grants. The finance officer would handle the budget, while the operations officer would oversee nonacademic functions such as transportation, facilities and food service.

Morse said the new structure will save about $97,000 a year and give administrators a unified focus on curriculum and instruction, something the current structure lacks.

“Currently, we don’t have that curriculum focus,” he said. “It’s pretty noticeably lacking.”

Morse said the lack of academic focus within the central office has led to disparate offerings in city schools, where programs were designed by building principals and staff with no connection to their counterparts in other buildings.

Although site-based management has its advantages, Morse said the model falters when administrators and staff lack well-articulated job descriptions, which makes it difficult to hold employees accountable.

One of the by-products of such site-based management is the elementary math program. Morse said there are four different math programs being taught in the city’s eight elementary schools.

“The lack of coordination has created a lot of disconnect within the city,” he said, “where our youngsters moving from school to school are literally walking into different program options, rather than the City of Portland’s programming option.”

Better coordination of curriculum will also make it easier to offer professional development opportunities, Morse said.

While Morse is instituting a more systemic approach to education in Portland, he said he is also trying to preserve the benefits of site-based management: creativity and innovation.

“You can’t have it all top-down, because that’s just as ineffective,” he said. “You have to find the magic spot to stop the pendulum and say this is the central office role and this is the building’s role.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or