Overhaul hinted for top posts in county schools

Hairston seeks ways to trim $14.6 million from proposed budget

No layoffs planned, he says

April 18, 2001|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston, forced to trim next year's proposed operating budget, says he could cut costs by up to $2 million by reorganizing top administrative posts, an idea that has caused jitters among some educators.

"I think everyone is curious about what is going to happen," said Sarajane V. Quinn, president of the Council of Administrative and Supervisory Employees of the Baltimore County Public Schools, a union that represents employees who could be affected by a reorganization. "I'm hearing that people are waiting to see where the positions will be to make their career choices."

Streamlining the administrative staff has been in the works since Hairston took over as head of the 107,000-student school system in July. He emphasized yesterday that any changes made in his effort to cut at least $14.6 million from the proposed budget won't cost jobs.

"There will be no trauma involved in it," he said. "This will be a typical restructuring."

The superintendent has said he hopes to eliminate positions that overlap. He has said he should be able to avoid layoffs and save money through attrition. About 50 percent of school administrators are eligible for retirement at the end of the current school year.

That goal could be complicated because fewer employees than expected have declared their intention to retire. "I'm not sure if that's because people are happy here or if it's the economy," Hairston said.

The superintendent said he is confident that he can achieve the necessary savings and make progress in the classroom. County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger has proposed a county budget that would give the schools $643 million in the fiscal year that will begin July 1. That would be $33.6 million more than this year.

The County Council can subtract from that budget, but cannot add to it. The council must adopt a budget by June 1.

Even with Ruppersberger's increase, schools will receive $14.6 million less than the school board has proposed in its budget.

"The county executive did not hurt us," said Hairston, referring to Ruppersberger's budget recommendation, which was announced Monday. "It's going to be a good year."

Still, it won't be quite the year Hairston had envisioned. Because of the proposed cut, he has deferred plans to spend $10 million to buy computers for teachers, an effort that would have complemented the superintendent's high-tech push. Last fall, he spent about $11 million to buy 6,000 computers for students.

"We've got about 500 computers available for teachers now," Hairston said. "This way we can phase the program in as we get teachers trained."

Staff members at school system headquarters are concerned about the possible reorganization, which has some administrators wondering whether they will be shifted out of jobs they have held for years.

"It's wait and see right now," said Donna Flynn, northwest area superintendent, who added that she doesn't feel threatened. "I'm not looking for a new job," she said.

Administrators have said that Hairston is unhappy with the way the county's 162 schools are divided into five geographic clusters, with an area superintendent overseeing each. Hairston said recently that he was worried that the county had a "system of schools and not a school system."

Hairston has asked his five area superintendents to work with Deputy Superintendent Christine M. Johns to compile appropriate staffing figures for each school. In the past, area superintendents came up with those numbers on their own. To some, that is a sign that Hairston wants centralized control.

He has spent much of the past year collecting and reviewing data to support a top-level reorganization, which some school officials say is needed to keep costs down and improve student achievement.

A management survey that has been completed by a Florida company is scheduled to be delivered within a few weeks. The survey, one of three by outside consultants that will cost about $500,000, is expected to provide administrators with recommendations for improving the performance of the school system.

The two other studies have been completed. One offered a snapshot of the school system at the time Hairston took over as superintendent. The other examined management practices.

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