When several Baltimore city school principals complained that they had too little time to do far too much, Alan E. Small could have brushed it off as a commonplace gripe that he, as an internal auditor, could do little to resolve.
Instead, he sketched out a sheaf of flowcharts, documenting the schools' chain of command and the number of staffers who reported directly to each principal.
After sharing his findings with school system authorities, Small drew up new flowcharts that reassigned many of the schools' business activities, from managing bookstores to equipment inventory, to new chairpersons.
The adjustments gave the principals more time to focus on education.
"What was driving the principals to identify their busy schedules as their chief obstacle was that no one had taken the time to see how many people they had reporting to them," he said. "In the schools that implemented the changes, it worked like a charm."
Now, Small has been hired full time to find ways to improve efficiency and productivity in the Carroll County school system. He's the new director of quality assurance -- a job that he and others describe as "the friendly side of internal auditing" -- and he's apparently the only one of his kind in the Baltimore-area school systems.
With cell phone strapped to his belt and a no-nonsense approach, the 47-year-old sometimes sounds as bureaucratic as the complicated school system he's charged with investigating.
For example, take his explanation of his job: "It is an independent, objective assurance and consulting activity designed to add value and enhance an organization's operations. That is the whole key to what I'm doing."
During an interview, he proudly displays his various awards, certifications and diplomas and offers an unsolicited recitation of his grade-point averages -- a 3.56 in business management at the University of Maryland, College Park and a 3.60 from the Johns Hopkins University while earning a master's of business administration.
"I'm very consistent," he said with a chuckle.
But if Small's undergraduate and graduate school achievements were consistent, his work experiences have been anything but.
Before coming to Carroll County, Small spent 4 1/2 years with the Baltimore school system in grants management, information technology and internal auditing.
Before that he worked many jobs, from the finance departments of a private Catholic school and a national truck rental company to a federal credit union, a Baltimore bank, a computer reseller and network design company and Baltimore government.
Small also spent 14 years with the Baltimore police, as an officer, an agent and a field-training officer, in the 1970s and '80s.
While he was a full-time graduate student at Hopkins, Small lent his expertise to former Orioles General Manager Roland Hemond and Roy Sommerhof, a former Orioles executive who is now director of ticket operations for the Ravens, to bring the Baldrige Criteria into Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Small proposed -- and the Orioles' management accepted -- several data-driven ideas to improve "the fan experience."
Small helped Leonard Hamm, former police chief of the Baltimore school system, rein in the department's overtime expenditures. Small analyzed three years' worth of data on who was accruing overtime pay and what impact it had on the budget before proposing a plan to curb abuse. Within a year, the problem was gone, said Hamm, now chief of Morgan State University's police force.
Since July 1, Small has been meeting with Carroll principals and central office administrators. The projects are stacking up.
He's chairing a committee to look into the issues related to giving principals more control over how their schools are run. He's taking a closer look at federal subsidies for Internet service to see whether Carroll is eligible for more than it's getting. He's reviewing recent performance audits, working with a committee to write a new procedural manual for the school system's purchasing department and analyzing maintenance work orders to make the whole process more organized and efficient.
"He's here to help make us more efficient and effective and to look at our procedures for doing different things and make recommendations for improvements," said Carroll Interim schools Superintendent Charles I. Ecker, who hired Small when his position was cut from the Baltimore school system's budget.
"Hopefully we will be able to save money along the way. That's not the primary purpose, but a purpose. We're short on personnel and need to do things that will help people do their job easier," Ecker said.
For Small, the chance to work with Ecker in the Carroll school system is a "destination job."
"My interest in this didn't come from a whim," Small said as classical music wafted from a nearby radio and he surveyed the stacks of paper on a table in his office.
"It came from a passion because I remember standing on street corners and really wondering to myself what impact my association with these kids would have on his or her future. ... Here, in this school system, I've found the personal satisfaction that I feel in delivering processes that help children learn. I saw that on the streets as a cop, I saw how children depend on education. And now I'm a part of that."