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Teamwork Replaces Monitoring in N.Y. Overhaul

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In an apparent effort to pre-empt political pressures for changes and cutbacks, the New York State education department has initiated a reorganization plan aimed at transforming the way in which it serves school districts.

By a vote of 12 to 1, the board of regents in late June gave final approval to a reorganization plan proposed by Commissioner of Education Thomas Sobol.

When completed, backers say, the department's restructuring will replace a top-down, bureaucratic management structure with an integrated team approach to helping districts carry out the New Compact for Learning, the regents' blueprint for education in the state.

Reorganization is expected to get under way by next month and to be completed in two to three years.

"As part of the [new compact], we are asking everyone to move from a system that focuses on processes to one that focuses on results,'' said Chancellor R. Carlos Carballada. "At the state level, that means changing the state education department from primarily a monitoring organization to a helping or enabling organization.''

Most of the changes will be centered in the office of elementary, middle, and secondary education. The newly designed office is to consist of 40 interdisciplinary teams, whose members will be expected to provide all the services it takes to run a school. Although the team members will retain their special expertise, the model calls for them also to serve as generalists.

The integrated approach will help coordinate the myriad of programs and services based on the needs of the whole child, according to Commissioner Sobol. "As we work with schools and school districts, we must integrate our efforts just as we wish schools and pupils to integrate theirs,'' he said.
Mr. Sobol's plan calls for cutting 27 management positions, mainly among division and bureau chiefs. Elimination of the posts will save an estimated $950,000 out of the department's total administrative-operating budget of $57 million.

Political Pressure Anticipated

Although the reorganization was designed primarily to enhance services to schools, education officials did not dispute the notion that the department anticipated legislative pressure if some action were not taken to trim the budget and administrative staff.

"If we don't do this for ourselves, it is quite likely that someone will come along and tell us to do it or do it for us,'' said Chris Carpenter, a spokesman for the department.

As the new state budget was being drafted this year, some lawmakers expressed dissatisfaction with the department after newspaper accounts indicated that the education bureaucracy had been growing at a time when state agencies were under pressure to cut back on employment.

The alleged administrative growth looked particularly bad at a time when many school districts were facing serious fiscal problems. The department was also accused of shifting some local-assistance funds to the administrative budget.

Assemblyman Anthony J. Casale, a member of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, said Commissioner Sobol ignored letters and calls from some legislators about the issue of administrative spending.

Then, "all of a sudden, he made this announcement,'' said Mr. Casale. "Lo and behold, he made some major changes.''

But Mr. Casale said he had to give credit to Mr. Sobol for the actions he has taken, regardless of the rationale for the reorganization.

"What impresses me about it is not just that [he] is laying off some people but eliminating some high-level positions,'' Mr. Casale said. "It's a good signal to the rest of state government.''

Specialty Groups Concerned

While the reorganization plan has pleased some lawmakers, it has created anxiety for other members of the education community. Some special-education and other groups are worried that their specialty areas may be subjugated in the collaborative team approach.

Regent Emlyn Griffith said he voted against the reorganization because there had been insufficient time to address the concerns raised by subject-area teachers and advocates for children with disabilities and non-English-speakers.

"There is a feeling of uncertainty,'' said Deborah S. Chicorelli, the executive secretary of the New York State Council for Exceptional Children.

For example, Ms. Chicorelli noted, the state department has eliminated the head of programs for children with disabilities.

"Is special ed going to become integrated with elementary, middle, and secondary? What is going to happen and who is going to be in charge?'' she asked. "We are confused and concerned that it will be lost in the shuffle.''

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