Despite budget cuts, city schools to hire 15 new administrators

Even as city schools are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars for staff and programs, schools CEO Andrés Alonso has proposed hiring 14 new executives and a deputy CEO at six-figure salaries as part of his central office reorganization.

Alonso informed the city school board this week that the system wants to hire the directors at salaries of $125,000, for a total cost of $1.75 million, to strengthen management and support school leaders. Alonso has also budgeted a $175,000-a-year deputy CEO position that has been vacant for the past two years.

"The goal … doesn't change, which is to make the organization stronger by responding to its needs. And what has emerged over time is the need to provide principals with greater support and greater feedback," Alonso said.

But city school leaders questioned the creation of the highly paid positions, and school communities wanted to know the school system's rationale for doing so during a difficult budget year. The jobs would also increase the number of management positions, reversing a longstanding trend in Alonso's tenure of cutting administrative central office positions.

"In times of scarcity, every decision is magnified," Alonso said. "The only appropriate criteria for me is whether what we do helps the organization be better and the schools be better and have better outcomes. Optics don't matter. I'm not here to win popularity contests. I'm here to change outcomes for kids."

School system officials said the new positions would provide "a deeper level of support" to city principals, in coaching and guidance. Alonso has given much autonomy to principals, who oversee their school budgets and hiring. Currently, there are two executive directors responsible for responding to and evaluating administrators at 200 schools. With the addition of the new positions, each executive would be responsible for roughly a dozen schools.

Jimmy Gittings, the city's administrators union president, said that adding more management positions at a time when principals are deciding what teachers and staff to sacrifice is unnecessary. Schools are losing significant funds this year, some up to $1 million.

"I strongly disagree with the hiring of new executive directors to supervise our principals," Gittings said. "To increase the financial cost of management and remove money from our schools disturbs me immensely."

A similar move recently by the Baltimore County school system to hire an administrator at a salary of $214,000 while the district cut 196 teaching positions was criticized by school communities and lawmakers.

In Baltimore City, the decision to create new management positions, Alonso told board members, "came from the field," with principals saying that they felt a disconnect from "networks" — teams of support staff that Alonso created in 2009 to provide additional support to schools. The number of staff in the networks is budgeted to more than triple next year.

While Alonso has cut the central office by nearly 33 percent in the past four years, the central office grew by nine positions since last year, in addition to the 14 new executive positions.

The increase also surprised Marietta English, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, who said that the positions came "as a shock, when they've been talking about streamlining the central office." More than 300 teachers represented by the union recently took an early retirement incentive, and para-educators were offered a similar package this week as cost-saving measures by the district.

The deputy CEO position has been listed in the system's organizational chart since it was created in 2009 for then-city school board President Brian Morris, who resigned from the new post after questions arose about his legal and financial problems.

City school board President Neil Duke said that the board would continue to weigh the budgetary impact of the new executive positions before it approves the final budget on May 24.

"At a time when the district is increasingly turning over school-based budgetary decisions and responsibilities to our principals, there is a consequent need to ensure that our schools receive additional supports," Duke said.

The central office budget is projected to decrease by $3.6 million next year with the elimination of 89 currently filled central office positions and scaled-back spending.

Many school board members lauded the savings, particularly because they were informed that the executive positions would not be an additional cost but would be funded through savings in the central office budget.

However, city school officials said late Wednesday that the new executives would be "grant-funded positions" from Title II federal dollars intended for professional development for teachers and school leaders. Michael Sarbanes, chief spokesman for the school system, said that salaries for administrative executives fall into that category.

Parents said they were also interested in hearing more about the rationale for the new positions, as many watch their schools grapple with significant funding losses.

Michelle Green, a parent who has attended more than 10 school budget meetings, said that many schools are trying to focus on what will directly affect instruction, and that school officials should do the same.

"I can say that schools are feeling like they're robbing Peter to pay Paul, but we're creating positions at central," Green said. "The only way I could support that is if I heard a rationale that said it would directly help the schools."

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