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Schools lack staff to manage projects Consultant sees need for long-term planner


Anne Arundel's school construction staff is stretched too thin to properly manage its $120 million program, juggling too many projects while long-range planning falls by the wayside, according to a consulting company.

The prescription? Hire more project managers and a person specifically assigned to long-range planning.

Those findings did not surprise Superintendent Carol S. Parham or Board of Education President Joseph H. Foster.

"I felt that it was time for us to step beyond any intuition that we might have," Parham said of her decision in November to hire the consultants.

Results of the $12,000 review by Powell Management Associates Inc., an Atlanta-based company with offices in Prince George's County, were released yesterday at Board of Education headquarters.

"This is the piece that we needed, that outside look at what we're doing," Parham said. "It will certainly carry, I think, some significant weight in how we plan to move on from here."

Parham decided to hire the consultant to review the facilities planning and construction division after cost overruns of more than $7 million in two years brought unrelenting criticism from County Executive John G. Gary.

Gary had not seen the report and probably would not comment until today, when Powell officials are scheduled to brief the Joint Committee on School Construction on their findings, spokeswoman Lisa Ritter said.

The findings are similar to recommendations made by the joint committee in January calling for better long-range planning. The committee has members from the Gary administration and the school system,

"It's certainly not a whitewash," said Foster, a committee member. "I would say that I did not find any surprises from the report."

In brief, the consultant's report called for hiring a facilities planning officer, at a salary of approximately $60,000, to focus solely on long-range planning issues such as real estate and feasibility studies; hiring two additional project managers, for contracts worth about $50,000 a year, to ease the workload of three current project managers; reorganizing existing staff members; and developing standards for materials, designs and operating procedures.

According to the report, three project managers oversee 25 projects worth more than $120 million.

"It has to be one of the smallest facilities staffs I've ever seen anywhere," said Bruce A. Bruchey, a division manager with Powell. "In the existing organization, they're carrying as many as [projects per manager]."

That's a heavier workload than in the facilities management departments of comparable school districts, such as Howard County, he said.

"There is no doubt that we have been understaffed for quite some time now," said Rodell E. Phaire, director of facilities planning and construction for the past two years.

Hiring a facilities planning officer and reorganizing the staff would free him to work more closely on managing capital projects instead of trying to fit in strategic planning, as he does now, Phaire said.

The report from an outside source should lend credibility to the argument for hiring more people, he said.

"The [school] system struggles every year to get additional staff. It's a battle that rages every budget season," he said.

Parham promised swift action on the report's findings.

Pub Date: 8/29/96

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