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SPS staffing plan causes stir

Published 7:57pm Saturday, June 22, 2013

Teachers in city public schools are concerned about a shakeup of instructional support roles that could see more spent on “head office” positions, says Wendell Foster, president of the Education Association of Suffolk, a group that works on behalf of Suffolk teachers.

Top administrators in the school system said during budget deliberations in April that they expected the shakeup in the division’s instructional support positions to be cost-neutral in its first year.

According to data provided by Suffolk Public Schools, though, Superintendent Deran Whitney’s “Strategic Staffing Plan,” which calls for eliminating 13 instructional support positions and creating 19 new ones, is likely to raise staffing costs if fully implemented.

“A lot of my teacher colleagues are saying the administrators downtown are changing the goalposts,” Foster said.

The district has started filling 13 of the new positions for the 2013-2014. Individuals whose positions were cut have been invited to apply.

“It is entirely too soon to assume that the additional six positions will in fact be able to be filled next year,” Whitney stated.

The staffing plan’s second phase would need to be considered during the next budget process, Whitney wrote in an email. “It certainly is our hope that that the plan can be fully implemented,” he added.

The total payroll for 17 of the new positions would range from $795,000 to $1.21 million, based on salary ranges provided for the positions by school district spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw. Salary ranges for two new positions, coordinator of accountability and teacher/administrator mentoring and professional development specialist, were not provided.

At $911,630, the combined payroll for the 13 eliminated positions — 12 of which will be gone July 1 — appears right at the lower end of the combined salary range for the new positions.

The goal of the district is to make the new staffing plan “cost-neutral, or as close to cost-neutral as possible,” according to Whitney.

“It is in the best interest of our students and teachers to hire the most qualified staff to perform the support functions outlined,” he added. “If in fact the best qualified candidate does cost more, that cost will be weighed carefully. Actual costs and expenses may change and require adjustments as we fill positions.”

Foster, an alternative education teacher at John Yeates Middle School, said his colleagues are watching the ranks of better-paid positions swell, while they again missed out on a raise this year, are contributing more for health insurance and face large class sizes.

However “the teachers are going to do what they need to do, whether they get a raise or not,” he said. “If we were just in it for the money, I think a lot of us would have left a long time ago.”

He likened the expansion of head office positions — a designation Whitney disputes, saying they should be viewed as “support positions for teachers and building administrators” — to city hall’s recent controversial raises for senior staff, including City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn’s 14 percent.

“They are giving money to each other and not looking out for teachers,” Foster said. “A lot of my colleagues are saying, ‘If I say something, I might get reprimanded for it.’”

The goal of the new staffing plan is to “assist teachers with providing students the best education possible by supporting their needs,” Whitney stated.

“This may be in the form of developing curriculum, developing assessments, modeling lessons, or providing resources.”

Teachers will also be asked to complete a needs assessment “so that we can be certain support staff is just that — staff who supports them,” he added.

“I also would let teachers know that the School Board and the superintendent recognize that they are working hard and want to be responsive to their needs as classroom teachers.”

The new staffing plan was developed by reviewing student performance data, up-to-date teaching strategies and instructional challenges, “in an effort to work towards getting all schools fully accredited,” Whitney stated.

 

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