School chief pushes fixes Booker promises smaller bureaucracy

'Duplication of effort'

Internal auditor to seek cost savings, he says

July 10, 1998|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

After three days on the job, Baltimore schools' chief executive promised just the kind of fixes his financial background had foreshadowed: a series of management and financial changes designed to make the system run more efficiently and responsibly.

Robert Booker, the former San Diego County chief financial officer, said he will shrink the North Avenue bureaucracy and shift resources to the schools, adopt a system of accountability and do more internal auditing to determine where the system can save money.

"If you manage your resources, you get what you want," he said.

Booker plans to have all central office staff members at the North Avenue headquarters fill out questionnaires describing what they do.

"Inevitably, I am going to find some duplication of effort," he said, adding that he would transfer people to schools. "That is where the action is, that is where the resources are needed."

Booker offered few specifics on his reorganization plans, but did mention that the one internal auditor could not ensure that money is used wisely. He said he would look for places in the school budget to cut so he could hire more auditors.

Booker said he was shocked to learn that a recent audit of the school buildings showed $600 million was needed to repair and renovate buildings. The school system, he said, should develop a plan to finance those capital improvements.

The new school leader had no sweeping judgments about the state of the system, one in which elementary students are years behind their peers nationwide in reading and math, and high school students are more likely to drop out than get a diploma.

Low-key news conference

Booker was low-key and quiet yesterday morning in holding his first news conference as schools chief. He said jokingly that he had already gotten lost driving to his Northwest Baltimore home from work. He arrived Sunday from San Diego.

He said turning around city schools likely will take years, although he expects to make incremental progress in a year.

"I can assure you we are moving in a new direction," Booker said. "How quickly will test scores improve? I don't know at this point."

While he begins work in historically the slowest month for the school system, he must hire several staff members in the next two months. Booker said he and his predecessor, former interim school chief Robert E. Schiller, would be interviewing candidates this week for two key administrative jobs overseeing principals.

The system also must hire 17 principals and 300 to 400 teachers before school starts in the fall.

Praises teacher training

Booker mentioned academics and learning few times in the half-hour news conference, although he praised this summer's staff training, a $1.6 million effort to retrain about 4,700 elementary and high school teachers in teaching everything from reading to biology.

He visited a session this week, he said, and found the teachers "full of vigor and enthusiasm."

He also praised the school board and administration for a new school curriculum and for efforts to buy a new computer system, estimated to cost about $9.6 million, to track students and financial records.

Booker will recommend which company should get the contract at the next school board meeting.

Booker, 68, who also had 20 years' experience as a financial manager in the Los Angeles school system, was selected by the school board in May to replace Schiller, who had been hired on a three-month contract a year ago. The board kept extending Schiller's contract as the search for a permanent schools chief dragged on for nine months.

Schiller, whose work was applauded, will remain for several weeks to assist Booker.

Pub Date: 7/10/98

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