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Seattle Seeks To Make Central Office More 'Service Oriented'

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Responding to public pressure to cut bureaucracy, the Seattle schools have set their sights on the district's top management.

The district, which has tried before to reorganize within the administration, is stepping up efforts this spring to alter the way the system is run. Officials of the 46,000-student district say they hope their efforts will have a dramatic effect on the way the central office operates.

Under the central-office plan, which is still being developed, top administrators would be shuffled into new positions, reassigned to schools, or eliminated from their jobs in an effort to save money and make the district "more service-oriented,'' said Carol Reed, the director of strategic planning and restructuring.

"We flattened central administration before,'' Ms. Reed said. "But when you flatten without reorganizing it just grows back again.''

The proposed changes coincide with the district's other initiatives to overhaul curricula, increase school and district accountability, and farm out more money and decisionmaking authority to individual schools.

Superintendent William Kendrick had set out a plan in an earlier restructuring effort that required some officials to apply for newly defined jobs and cut the number of assistant superintendents in the district. (See Education Week, Feb. 13, 1991.)

'Political Winds'

But observers say the latest plans for change will better respond to a demand to reduce the layers between the district's management and the schools.

"The new role for the central administration is substantially different,'' said Roger A. Erskine, the executive director of the Seattle Education Association. "We don't need all the structure we've had in the past.''

Like other urban districts that have been pressured to reduce operating costs and rethink how schools are governed, the Seattle schools have for several years attempted to make changes, with varying success.

"This constant renewal process is really part of large organizations,'' Ms. Reed remarked. "If something doesn't work, you try again.''

But some officials said the district's latest plans may have more momentum in light of Mr. Kendrick's recent announcement that he will leave when his contract expires in 1996.

Mr. Kendrick has run the district for eight years--about six years longer than the average urban superintendent remains in the job.

The school board has discussed whether to renew Mr. Kendrick's contract so many times that it became difficult for the superintendent to follow through with plans, said Mr. Erskine, a member of the district's reform team.

"You can't make changes if you're always worried about the political winds,'' Mr. Erskine said.

Now, however, Superintendent Kendrick is "free to make tough decisions,'' Ms. Reed said.

The district this year is also plotting a fourth attempt to pass a bond issue that could boost its $311 million budget, which will be realigned during the school system's restructuring.

About $5 million, for instance, would be redirected to school sites as part of the effort to move money out of the central office and into the schools.

Elements of the Plan

Although the district is still discussing how to handle the central-office reorganization, other elements of the restructuring plan are under way.

Some of the initiatives are part of a five-year blueprint designed to improve student achievement and el-29ldevelop a more diverse workforce.

"We decided to do all of this at the same time,'' which makes the plan more difficult to execute but also "more significant,'' Mr. Erskine said.

In addition to decentralizing the administration, the plan would:

  • Accelerate the development of a curriculum framework for schools;
  • Increase accountability for student performance and identify new graduation requirements;
  • Award additional resources to schools with special-needs students;
  • Increase the schools' shared-decisionmaking authority;
  • Evaluate district departments such as transportation and special education to see whether they could be managed more cost-effectively by schools; and,
  • Create professional-development programs for building- and district-level employees that support reorganization.


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