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PORTLAND — A study of the School Department’s structure recommends adding administrative jobs and re-examining the department’s compensation system.
The study, conducted by Evergreen Solutions, a Tallahassee, Fla.-based company, found that teachers in Portland are paid more than their peers at 21 similar institutions. The study also looked at the organization of the district positions and recommended creating a new top-level administrator, along with nine other administrative support positions.
The report follows the elimination of 40 teaching, administrative and staff positions, although some have since been restored, and a few more may be, if voters approve a supplemental budget in September.
In addition, the Evergreen study also advocates a merit-based pay system, instead of the current step-based increases, where employees are rewarded for longevity, not necessarily performance.
On Tuesday night, the School Board heard a presentation from Jeff Ling, executive vice president of Evergreen. Afterward, the board accepted the study.
The most significant new position proposed is what Evergreen called a “school performance management officer,” who would essentially take over tasks currently assigned to other top administrators.
The position would oversee school improvement and staff evaluation. In addition, it would also have oversight for school principals.
Evergreen also recommends the director of human resources report directly to the superintendent of schools, instead of to the chief financial officer.
This would create two more top-level administrators, in addition to the CFO, chief academic officer and chief operations officer. The reorganization also calls for shifting some of the responsibilities of those positions around and renaming the CAO the “associate superintendent of academics.”
Other recommended positions include a School Board liaison, an IT coordinator, two data research specialists, an accounting assistant, a human resources specialist and a human resources assistant.
No estimates for how much these positions would cost the district are provided in the study.
A significant portion of the study was based on a survey and a series of focus groups of department employees, seeking their views on pay and benefits, classification of the job titles and roles, and school policies.
But less than 10 percent of the more than 1,200 employees participated in the sessions, making the study results highly unrepresentative, the report notes.
Ling, who has conducted similar reviews for other school districts, said Portland’s participation was particularly low. He said Evergreen even extended the deadline for the survey by a month to allow people more time to participate.
In speculating why the numbers were so low, Ling said in addition to employees who said they didn’t have time, others said they were “told not to participate.”
According to the study, employees surveyed “expressed a desire to have an evaluation system” and a “discontent with the inability to receive merit pay increases.”
The salaries of 605 teachers account for about 48 percent of the district’s budget, according to the report.
Portland teachers at the mid-point of their career earn on average 10 percent more than their counterparts in other states, according to the study. In Maine, they earn about 7 percent more, Ling said.
“Although we’re not recommending change to the overall pay range structure, (Portland Public Schools) should carefully consider the appropriate balance of resources in the future to ensure that student needs are met in the best fashion possible,” the report says.
Benefit packages offered for School Department employees are on par or slightly more costly than others, according the study. Ling said a number of factors can play into the higher than average cost, including more health care offerings and districts paying a larger portion of employee premiums.
The study now heads to the personnel and finance committees for review.
“I think the information gives us an objective place to start a discussion,” board Chairman Jaimey Caron said. “While it took us a long time to get here, I’m hoping it won’t take us as long to get to some of these recommendations.”