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Baltimore County school leaders pledge to follow report’s recommendation to cut costs

Baltimore County public school leaders pledged this month to address numerous recommendations made by an outside consultant in an effort to cut costs within the state’s third largest school system.

Superintendent Darryl Williams and school board chairwoman Makeda Scott delivered separate updates for the public Tuesday on plans to address the recommendations in a more than 750-page report produced by consultant Public Works LLC. Baltimore County officials hired the firm in February to review both county government and the school system in hopes of identifying cost savings.

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Superintendent Darryl Williams (pictured in 2020) and school board chairwoman Makeda Scott delivered separate updates.
Superintendent Darryl Williams (pictured in 2020) and school board chairwoman Makeda Scott delivered separate updates. (Amy Davis)

Consultants identified five themes in their findings for the school system — the need to restructure the central office, improve accountability and transparency, address low morale among employees, strengthen communication and share more services with government and community stakeholders.

The consultants described a “top-heavy” central office that contrasts with a human resources department in serious need of more staff to offset a heavy workload. They recommended thinning the central office staff from 11 administrators down to seven in order to streamline operations. The school system could stand to save more than $39 million over a five-year period if all recommendations are implemented, the consultants concluded.

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As the findings were made public last month, Williams committed to creating a comprehensive plan that would reorganize central office staff and include a study of salaries for all unionized employees. School officials are organizing several work groups to begin meeting the week of Oct. 25.

“We have a very real customer service problem,” Williams told school board members last month. “We know that climate and morale issues erode our effectiveness and directly impact students. If we don’t take care of our team, then our students don’t receive our very best.”

Consultants took six months to interview about 300 staff members and review documents before presenting their findings to the board Sept. 14. The report represents a “snapshot in time” during which the school system was still delivering a hybrid model of instruction because of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as recovering from a ransomware attack last fall.

Williams said he received a joint response from the school system’s unions Friday, stating that their priorities were closely aligned with his.

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“We agree,” he said, that the system needs to address payroll, certification and benefit errors, find more substitutes while seeking a permanent solution, streamline and improve the onboarding process for new hires, increase staffing and do a full review of all salary scales.

The report also examined the 12-person school board, which has struggled with infighting since transitioning to a hybrid model in 2018, with seven elected and four appointed members, and one student member. Those tensions appeared more pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic as the board struggled to find consensus on major decisions including the reopening of schools and the recovery from a devastating ransomware attack in November.

The consultant’s findings included recommendations that the board adopt a civility policy, attend team-building workshops, prioritize the updating of the operating manual, and conduct work sessions on board governance with a goal of minimizing or eliminating micromanagement of staff.

Board chairwoman Makeda Scott gave a presentation Tuesday breaking down the study’s findings, pledging to provide updates to the public on the board’s progress in implementing changes.

“We want staff and everyone to know we heard what was said, we see what we need to work on and we are taking steps to work in that direction,” Scott said. “We’re holding each other accountable.”

More updates on the school system’s response to the study are expected at the upcoming Oct. 26 school board meeting.

The consultants noted that a majority of staff interviewed gave high praise for the division of curriculum and instruction. And food services had the most favorable responses on surveys.

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