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Chiefs in Okla., S.C. Pledge To Reorganize Departments

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Citing top-heavy bureaucracies and duplicated responsibilities, the newly elected state superintendents of Oklahoma and South Carolina have pledged major reorganizations of their departments of education.

The Oklahoma state school board late last month unanimously approved a restructuring plan that will eliminate 64 positions, transfer 22 jobs to other state agencies, and dissolve 13 department sections over the next six months. The changes should save $1.5 million, said Superintendent of Public Instruction Sandy Garrett in a news release last week.

In South Carolina, a 35-member task force of business leaders is scheduled this week to unveil its recommendations for streamlining the education department. Superintendent of Education Barbara Nielsen has promised to present her reorganization plan March 1.

Funds saved from both plans will be channeled to the classroom and increased teacher salaries, advo4cates say.

"We are moving from the basic-skills reform of '83 and '84 to a new phase of reform," Ms. Nielsen said last week. "We're now looking at reform to make sure our dollars get to the classroom level."

With 1,107 employees, the South Carolina department is nearly one-third the size of the U.S. Department of Education, Ms. Nielsen said, adding, "We are definitely top-heavy."

"We will be fair. We will be consistent. We will provide counseling," she promised. "But we have to make serious changes."

Observers say that emphasis on fairness has eased acceptance of the difficult changes being made. In South Carolina, educators noted that Ms. Nielsen has been consulting closely with teachers and employees and predicted that any cuts will be fair.

Although some of its members stand to lose jobs during a recession, the Oklahoma Public Employees Association has supported Ms. Garrett's proposal.

"We're really disappointed any time any state employees are going to lose their jobs," said Pat Hall, the opea's executive director. "But Sandy Garrett has put in the absolute fairest reduction-of-force plan we've ever seen."

Most of the jobs to be cut in Oklahoma are at the upper level. The post of associate superintendent is to be abolished, with a net loss of three positions. One assistant superintendent's position will be added to the existing four.

The largest division to be eliminated is the transportation section, with nine employees, whose work Ms. Garrett says duplicates that of the state department of public safety in inspecting school buses. The functions of the other 12 sections will be merged into the remaining 54 sections, said the department's spokesman, Wendy Pratt.

Mr. Hall said Ms. Garrett formed a "crisis reduction-in-force committee" to help with relocation, health insurance, counseling, and unemployment compensation. He added that she implemented "down to the commas" a layoff plan drafted in part by his union.

Teachers' organizations in both states have embraced the reforms. Barbara Smith, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, praised Ms. Garrett for her "courageous stand on restructuring."

"I think the restructuring is long overdue," she added. "It was wisely thought out and will be well implemented."

Both programs are seen as representing the first phases of long-term state agency reform. In Oklahoma, state officials will begin studying the state's Regional Education Service Centers and their 179 staff positions in August to see whether further cuts and changes should be made.

Following release of the South Carolina business committee's report, Ms. Nielsen plans to name a 300-member task force of business leaders, educators, community activists, and politicians to draft recommendations for substantive changes in education in the state.

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