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Cincinnati Cuts More Than Half Of Central Office

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Cincinnati's schools superintendent last week unveiled a drastic reorganization of the district's bureaucracy that slashes the number of central-office administrators by more than half and transfers control of day-to-day business operations to a business-trained "vice president.''

The organizational structure presented by Superintendent J. Michael Brandt for the 50,000-student district reduces the number of central-office administrators from 127 to 62. In addition, 27 non-administrative support-staff positions have been eliminated, as have 50 clerical jobs.

In all, the streamlining will save the Cincinnati schools approximately $16 million over the next two years. Mr. Brandt has pledged to put those savings directly into schools.

"This is a statement to this community that we want to improve direct services to children,'' said Mr. Brandt, who has introduced an array of reforms since assuming the district's top post last August.

Tom Mooney, the president of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, called the announcement "the big bombshell everybody has been waiting for'' since last fall's Buenger Commission report, named for Clement C. Buenger, the chairman of the board of Fifth Third Bancorp, who headed the Cincinnati Business Committee Task Force on Public Schools.

The administrative reductions can be traced to that report, which called for the district's administration to be "restructured, consolidated, and streamlined to increase efficiency and clarify responsibilities.''

The new structure eliminates several layers of bureaucracy, including the district's area assistant superintendents and the entire department of administration, curriculum, and instruction. Teachers will now report directly to principals, who will in turn report directly to Mr. Brandt or his deputy superintendent.

In the past, teachers answered to one or two instructional supervisors, and principals dealt with the area superintendent as well as department heads in areas such as vocational education, special education, and Chapter 1 programs.

"All that was a tangled mess and all that's gone,'' Mr. Mooney said.

The district is currently negotiating with a candidate to fill the new position of vice president, which will oversee human resources, management-information systems, administrative services, public affairs, and the legal counsel.

In line with the Buenger Commission report, the vice president must have a background in business rather than education. Mr. Brandt noted that he anticipates further staff cuts once the appointee studies the district's business operations.

Financial Problems

Efforts to increase the efficiency of the city's schools have become more urgent in recent years as the district has faced severe financial difficulties. In 1990, voters rejected a tax-levy increase, plunging the district into bankruptcy and forcing it to seek emergency loans from the state.

After the Buenger report was released last September, voters approved the largest tax increase ever to fund schools, partly because Mr. Brandt pledged to implement many of the report's recommendations.

"The district was in such deep financial difficulty and the schools had lost so much credibility with the public,'' he said, "that the Buenger report offered me an opportunity to have a blueprint for success.''

The superintendent said the reorganization will allow him to spend more time with teachers and principals. "I cannot have 12 or 14 people directly competing for my time on issues not directly impacting our educational goals,'' Mr. Brandt said. "My role now will be more on the educational side; the vice president will be working more on the business-systems, facilities side.''

Mr. Brandt has replaced the curriculum and instruction department, formerly the largest in the central office, with a much smaller office of quality improvement. Rather than administer programs, the new office will disseminate research findings about effective practices, work with teachers to develop new student-assessment techniques, and help schools design new programs.

The approximately 140 central-office staff members affected by the reorganization have been dealt with in several ways. Last month, 41 central-office and school administrators took advantage of a voluntary-resignation program. Many of the remaining administrators will move to school-based positions and some will return to teaching.

In all, district officials say only about 10 people lost their jobs.

"I feel we've been treated very fairly,'' said Ray Finke, the president of the Cincinnati Association of Administrators and Supervisors.

Mr. Finke, who is also the principal of Western Hills High School, sees "tremendous burdens and tremendous opportunities'' for principals as a result of the reforms.

More relevant to principals were the changes Mr. Brandt announced earlier this year, when he reorganized the district's 80 schools into nine "mini-districts'' consisting of a high school, middle school, and six or seven elementary schools.

Each mini-district has one lead principal, who will be part of the superintendent's cabinet, reporting back to the other principals and teachers.

Many of the duties formerly carried out in the central office will be taken over by principals and teachers. One of the new, smaller districts has been designated as a pilot site that will experiment with such reforms as school-based management, new teaching and testing techniques, and different incentive plans for teachers.

Key to the new structure, Mr. Finke said, will be adequate training for principals. "We've had very, very minimal staff development for administrators,'' he noted.

To deal with these new training needs, Mr. Brandt said the district is opening a new human-resources-development center. Much of the training will begin this summer to prepare staff for next school year, when many of the new initiatives will be fully implemented.

Mr. Brandt said some of the central-office savings might also be used for in-school suspension programs at each school and efforts such as conflict-resolution programs.

Mr. Mooney, the union leader, said teachers' wish lists for the money include smaller classes in some schools, more school nurses, and counselors in elementary schools.

The Cincinnati board of education is also considering asking voters this fall to approve a bond issue in the range of $140 million to $150 million to cover the district's dire need for school construction and renovation, as well as a computerized management-information system.

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