Avossa to cut 58 jobs, direct $5 million more to poorest schools

Robert Avossa, Superintendent of the School District of Palm Beach County, speaks to members of the media about the bus situation in a press conference Wednesday, August 19, 2015. (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)

Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)

Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa wants to steer an extra $4.5 million a year to the county’s poorest public schools by slashing nearly 60 jobs in the school district’s administrative bureaucracy.

In a plan to be formally announced this afternoon, Avossa will call for the elimination of 58 positions in the school district’s regional offices, reducing their staffs by more than half and eliminating what he called “redundancy built into the system.”

The resulting savings would then be shifted to the schools with the poorest student populations, where principals would have greater discretion to use the money to tackle their schools’ particular needs, Avossa said.

The poorest 66 schools would receive an extra $100 per student, while another 49 schools with high numbers of poor students would win an extra $50 per child.

All told, Avossa said that those schools would receive an extra $5.3 million a year, as a result of the restructuring and related funding shifts.

The proposal, which will be considered by the school board today, is the first of what are expected to be several reforms to the public school system’s operations as Avossa works with a consulting firm to identify inefficiencies in the school district’s $2.3 billion budget.

The overhaul of the regional offices, which would take effect in July, would require all 101 employees in those offices to reapply for new positions.

Many will be rehired into the 43 jobs that will remain, Avossa said. But more than half – 58 in all – will have to find positions as teachers or school administrators or leave the school district.

Avossa said he expects all displaced employees will have a chance to apply for new positions in the school district, pointing out that county’s schools hire roughly 1,000 new teachers each year.

Meanwhile, the thinning of the middle-management ranks, he said, will allow the school district to operate more smoothly and allow more resources to directly aid students and teachers.

“It’s become abundantly clear that there’s been redundancy built into the system,” Avossa said.

The large-scale restructuring will require approval by the school board, which is set to consider the plan this afternoon.

The proposal was not added to the school board’s agenda until just hours before the meeting, an unusual move. Avossa said officials rushed to place the plan on the board’s agenda at the last minute to allow as much time as possible for affected employees to begin applying for the newly created positions.

Currently, the school district’s five regional offices – technically called “area offices” – help to manage the county’s roughly 185 district-run public schools, which educate more than 165,000 students and comprise the 11th or 12th largest public school system in the nation.

Each area office is responsible for between 30 and 38 schools and is overseen by an area superintendent and a staff of about 18 managers and specialists, records show.

Separate, three “transformation directors” with their own staffs provide additional supervision and support to the county’s most troubled schools.

Combined, the regional and transformation offices cost the school district more than $9 million a year to operate.

Under Avossa’s proposal, the five regional offices would be reduced to four, with direct supervision of the schools split between regional superintendents and subordinate teams of “instructional superintendents.”

Three transformation-director positions would be eliminated entirely, their responsibilities assumed by the regional superintendents. Also eliminated: 38 area team specialist positions, 11 area resource teacher positions and eight administrative assistant positions.

The net savings to the school district would be $4.5 million, according to a school district report.

Avossa said that that money would be pumped into the budgets of the county’s poorest schools, the ones which qualify for extra federal funding because the portion of poor students that they teach is so high.

Principals would have broad discretion to use the money as they see fit, although they will still be constricted by federal regulations on how the money can be spent. In most cases, Avossa said, principals will likely hire extra teachers or specialists to support their students’ needs.

Avossa said that giving principals more flexibility will not only allow them to tailor their budgets to their schools’ specific needs, it will allow for a reduction of regional office positions dedicated largely to overseeing how resources were shared between schools.

“You essentially eliminate middle management just by pushing (those jobs) to the schools,” Avossa said.

Employees in the regional offices learned this week that they will have to apply for new jobs. Avossa said that he expects everyone will have the chance to compete for new positions.

“I’m not trying to put people on the street without jobs,” he said. “No one is going hungry.”

Avossa credited the overhaul to research conducted by Boston-based Education Resource Strategies, a non-profit education consulting firm that the school board hired in October to analyze the school district’s operations.

Avossa said he expects many more reforms to result from the company’s findings. But he argued that the $4.5 million in spending cuts proved that the money spent on the consultant’s work was already paying dividends.

“We never really understood how this money was being spent,” he said.

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