Each new school superintendent in Baltimore City has reorganized the central administration, promising to make it more efficient and responsive and results-oriented. In all, there have been about a dozen reorganizations in the last 25 years. None seems to have produced dramatic improvements in learning. Will one more reorganization be any different?
A national consulting firm last night presented the school board with a management study that calls for yet another reorganization of the central administration. This plan is different enough that it is well worth some attention -- and, in a all probability, implementation.
The plan calls for elimination of some central office jobs (89, saving more than $3 million a year) and the creation of some new ones (12). It calls for "steps to become more efficient and effective, consolidating functions, reducing layers of management and streamlining administrative staffing." This type of recommendation is not new. Most of the dozen reorganizations have purported to make the bureaucracy smoother and smaller, but the bureaucracy still, somehow, has grown.
What is new is the suggestion that schools become "enterprise schools," given wide latitude to control their own budgets and to buy some services from providers other than the central administration. The central office would grow or shrink based on whether it could offer services to schools of a quality and price that schools, in a free market, would choose to buy them. (Some functions, such as food services, would remain "monopolies.")
What also is new is that the plan was developed by a respected national consulting firm, Towers Perrin, under contract to
Associated Black Charities. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, wanting a study done but short on city funds, was able to enlist ABC to raise the money. This arrangement gives the study needed credibility.
Credibility in the community is, to a large measure, what reorganization is about. A show of resolve to operate efficiently can convince people -- particularly legislators -- that the Baltimore schools are in position to make wise use of more money. And more money is needed if the city schools -- short on staff, short on books, short on computers -- are to provide an education that is comparable to that in the suburbs.
At best, reorganization is a step toward the real goal, which is improving learning. Even with a dramatic "free-market" orientation, no reshuffling of the boxes on the organization chart can in itself make learning happen. If it can help remove impediments to making learning happen, however, it is well worth trying.