Superintendent Pamela C. Brown has touted the reorganization of her central office staff as a move that will save the Buffalo Public Schools more than $1 million this year, “streamline” the administration and provide critical ground-level support to schools.
But her reluctance over the summer to provide a detailed breakdown of the savings – coupled with a flurry of new hires to her staff at district headquarters – have prompted some people to question whether the district really will be saving any money.
The reorganization, in fact, will add about $2 million to the district’s payroll overall, a Buffalo News analysis found.
Once employee benefits are factored in, the reorganization ends up costing taxpayers nearly $3 million.
The News also found:
• In the past few months, the superintendent created three new high-ranking positions and filled another one that had been long vacant, totalling $443,000 in new salaries.
• She added 39 new union administrative jobs in central office, for an estimated $2.48 million in new salaries.
• And Brown gave raises ranging from $2,000 to $15,000 to a dozen non-union central office administrators, many of whom have served in their roles for many years. Some of the administrators had expanded job duties, she said. Others, whose responsibilities did not change, got raises in an effort to bring their salaries in line with their counterparts in other districts, Brown said.
That’s not to say that Brown hasn’t made cuts to the central office payroll.
She cut the pay for four top administrative positions, through both demotions and replacement hires.
And she moved 16 lower-level positions – including four speech teachers and four special education teachers – out of central office and into schools to fill existing vacancies.
That created a savings of $969,350. But that savings is eclipsed by the amount she added to the payroll – $2.92 million.
Given all this, how can the superintendent say she’s saving the district money?
Brown defends her assertion of savings by pointing out that the district has started funding some positions through state and federal grants – money that could be allocated in a variety of ways to assist students – rather than the district’s operating budget.
In other words, the district is still spending just as much money on those positions – it’s just using money from one source instead of another.
“Some of the areas that are indicated as areas of savings are the result of reallocating costs to grants,” Brown said.
What’s more, though, is that the district’s only written explanation of the alleged $1 million in savings ignores 39 positions the reorganization adds to the payroll.
How it began
Brown’s reorganization of central office has been a centerpiece of her superintendency. The restructuring of district leadership has been months in the making.
Brown announced in March that she would shake up her administration and said she expected, conservatively, to save the district $2.1 million. That announcement was based on a $400,000 organizational study, funded by Say Yes to Education, and completed in March by Cross and Joftus, a consulting firm.
The report recommended a new model of administrative leadership. A primary focus of the reorganization was to create a more consolidated and streamlined organization that could provide building principals all the resources they need with a single call to the administration.
Aside from providing better school-level support, Brown reiterated to the school board in June and to reporters in July that the new reorganization would also “reduce excessive high/mid-level management positions” and save the district money. She lowered her initial savings estimate from $2 million to “more than $1 million.”
During her July news conference, Brown gave a PowerPoint presentation, showcasing the new organizational chart. But she also gave no breakdown of cost savings.
Consultant Mary Guinn, who played a lead role in the reorganization, and Chief Financial Officer Barbara J. Smith subsequently provided The News some details regarding the reorganizational plan but said many aspects of it were still preliminary.
With the seating of new board members in July, however, Brown was pressed to provide more details on the reorganization, including information regarding new hires, employee raises and bottom-line cost savings. Some of that information was provided to the board in August.
But the brief explanation of the savings that Brown gave to the board omits nearly 90 percent of the positions added to the district payroll as a result of the restructuring.
To account for $1 million in savings, the district issued a one-page document that listed some personnel cuts and indicated that the district would save more $600,000 because about a dozen remaining positions would be funded through grants, rather than the district’s main budget.
On Friday, the district provided revised information indicating the reorganization will now have grants totaling $487,000 covering about six positions. But these alleged savings were not, in fact, savings. These positions were not cut. They were merely funded differently.
Brown and Smith qualified these figures as savings “to the general fund.” Grant spending isn’t counted. Brown said the district is still saving money because employees covered by grant dollars free up more money in the district’s main operating budget.
“The savings do result from a combination of those efforts,” she said, “as well as our efforts to make sure we’re being as efficient and effective as possible with taxpayer funds that are available to us.”
The district’s cost-savings summary fails to account for 39 new lower-level central office positions Brown outlined in her PowerPoint presentation in July, a Buffalo News analysis found.
It is difficult to pin down exactly how many positions Brown’s reorganization will add to the payroll.
Consultant Guinn reviewed an 18-page color-coded flow chart with The News in July of the positions in the new central office. The News has subsequently worked to compile and verify a listing of new employees and their salaries.
Because the district failed to provide salary information for nearly three dozen of the new positions, The News reviewed the salary schedules from the district’s union contracts to estimate salaries for the positions.
Those 39 positions account for $2.47 million in new spending on salaries in central office, The News has estimated.
The new positions include: three assistant superintendents, two for curriculum and one for attendance and registration; 11 supervisors of various areas; two supervising principals; and 14 instructional coaches, among others.
“I’m more inclined to want to see an organization that is flat at the top and resources are driven down to the bottom, to the schools,” said board member James Sampson. “And I think we are doing just the opposite.”
The top jobs
Aside from the questions about cost are the questions about people.
With the exception of one retirement, the new organizational plan does not appear to remove anyone from district employment. It only adds.
During a budget presentation to the board May 15, Brown said she intended to add four new positions to her executive cabinet. But on May 22, a revised budget presentation to the board indicated that she would no longer fill all four top positions. Instead, she would only fill one – the deputy superintendent’s job – in order to close a major budget deficit.
That’s not what happened.
Within the superintendent’s executive cabinet, the reorganization adds a new chief of school leadership and a special assistant to the superintendent, neither listed in the last budget presentation to the board.
The one position Brown in May committed to filling, the deputy superintendent’s job, remains vacant.
District staff have complained privately and board members have complained publicly that consultant Guinn – who earns more than the superintendent – has assumed many of the deputy superintendent’s responsibilities. Board members said that they have heard from many district employees complaining that Guinn has assumed an inappropriate role in running the administration.
Brown defended Guinn’s work.
“Dr. Guinn has brought great expertise and skills and a track record of success turning schools around in other school districts,” Brown said this week. “She has been a great source of assistance to this entire district.”
Finally, Brown demoted three people from her executive cabinet – former General Counsel Chris Putrino, former Chief of Staff James Kane and former Chief Operations Officer Joe Giusiana. But all three remain in the central administration.
Brown said the people in her executive cabinet deserve to be there.
“Every member of my cabinet had to indicate an interest in the positions that were part of the new organizational structure,” she said. “They were not just allowed to remain in their positions. They had to interview for the positions.”
Brown may have narrowly retained her position as superintendent last week, but her reorganizational plans face serious challenges as board members continue to question the people and the cost associated with the flow chart reshuffling.
She attempted to hire Lorey Schultz, then a public relations staffer for the mayor, as her new chief of public relations. But a lawyer retained by the district told Brown that she needed to bring the position before the board for approval.
Despite telling board members she’d be willing to give up the deputy superintendent’s job for Schultz’s, the board voted 6-2 against allowing Schultz to be hired at a salary of $115,000.
Meanwhile, board member Carl P. Paladino has raised legal issues about Brown’s authority to create and fill any new administrative jobs without explicit board approval. Outside legal counsel is researching that question. Depending on the answer, more of Brown’s recent hires could unravel.
Finally, Guinn, the consultant who held the interim deputy superintendent title from March to June, is also in the hot seat. Her position hinges on a $430,000 consulting contract between the district and Cross and Joftus, the consulting firm. Lawyers are researching whether that contract is legally valid. If not, she could face dismissal unless a board majority votes to keep her.
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On the Web: For more reorganization details, visit the School Zone blog at www.buffalonews.com/schoolzone.