Friday, March 14, 2008

Baltmore Schools Central Office, Schools

Baltimore City Schools CEO Andres Alonso outlined cuts that dramatically streamlines the central office.
Stunned Baltimore school system employees met yesterday to learn about coming job cuts, a streamlining outlined in the $1.2 billion budget proposal that schools chief Andres Alonso brought to a standing-room-only meeting of the school board last night.

The proposal cuts $110 million from the central office while redistributing $70 million to schools and giving principals significantly more autonomy.

Principals, who now have about $90 per student in discretionary money, will have at least $5,600 per student to use as they see fit, plus more money with strings attached.
I had to read that last paragraph again. Principals will have $5,600 per student (on average) to use at their disretion? That is over 1/3 of the per pupil money Baltimore spends. That is a massive increase in school level discretionary funding. The money is also couched on expectations of teh principals and failure to meet goals could lead to dismissal. It will be interesting to watch.
As the central office shrinks, Alonso said, its mission will change from supervising schools to supporting schools.

Principals will be given support and then held accountable for results. The school board will vote this spring on accountability gauges that will be used to evaluate principals.

Under the current structure, Alonso said, "responsibility is in essence avoided."

School employees blame students' parents and home lives for the problems, as well as the central office. People at the central office also blame families, as well as a lack of capacity at the school level, he said.

"It doesn't matter who you talk to, it's about something, someone else," Alonso said. "What I do know is that the focus of responsibility needs to be near the kids. If you cannot create that sense of responsibility and efficacy about the work, we're not going to make the system better."
I am not sure where central office employees get the notion that there is a lack of capacity at Baltimore City Schools, the school population has been shrinkgin for years, while the bureaucracy has returend to size after a massive 1,000 person layoff in 2001 in the wake of a budget crisis. Alonso is right, the buck is always passed. Alonso, like his counterpart in Washington DC is taking the buck into his hands and put his future and reputation on the line. By giving principals the power to really make changes and differences in the allocation of spending, you can put more accountability on them.

In thinking about this effort, I am wondering if we will see some specialization in the schools. I don't mean specialization to the micro level, but a kind of "magnet school" without the express desingation. Meaning, principals who think math skills are more important spending on efforts in that area. Just a thought.

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