Three months after the Portland school district cut more than 40 positions because of budget constraints, a consultant’s report is recommending that the district add 10 new administrative jobs as part of a larger restructuring.
The report, by Florida contractor Evergreen Solutions, said it “discovered a few areas where staffing was less than expected and clear responsibility for functions did not exist.”
Among the new suggested jobs: two new human resources workers; a liaison to the school board; a school performance management officer; an additional accounting assistant in the finance department; two data specialists; and a mid-level Information Technology coordinator. No salary ranges for the jobs was provided.
Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk said the report provides guidance and context for ongoing district organization efforts and multiyear budgeting.
“While we cannot make the recommended changes all at once, the report gives us a path to follow that will strengthen our organization as we move forward,” Caulk said in a memo to the school board, which received the lengthy document at its meeting Tuesday night.
The district paid Evergreen Solutions $69,000 in December to analyze the district’s resources, studies compensation, classification and the overall organizational structure. The consultant also did a compensation and benefits analysis of district employees.
Overall, Evergreen found that:
• Portland schools spend 65 percent of the budget on salaries, compared with 60 percent by what the analysis described as “peer organizations.”
• Teacher salaries and benefits are in line or above comparable markets.
• In feedback sessions, employees said they were disappointed they couldn’t get merit increases.
• The district’s organizational structure has “fallen behind current best practices in titling and roles.”
“The good news is that as we turn to making major and long-overdue infrastructure investments, we already have very competitive compensation and benefit packages in place,” Caulk wrote.
The report also proposed a new management structure that shifts certain job responsibilities and changes the reporting structure of some jobs. For example, Human Resources would report directly to the superintendent instead of to the chief financial officer.
The compensation and benefits component will likely be used in budget negotiations with the district’s four unions. Evergreen Executive Vice President Jeff Ling said the firm’s market survey found that Portland school salaries, at the midpoint, were 10.3 percent higher than for public-sector peers. When limited to Maine-only comparisons, the pay was about 7 percent higher at midpoint.
In the past budget season, the Portland administration repeatedly pressed the teachers union to make concessions, such as taking furlough days or putting off scheduled pay increases. That prompted charges from the union that teachers were being unfairly blamed for the district’s financial problems. Catch-up salary increases accounted for $1.7 million in new costs in the $96.4 million budget because several years ago, during a financial crisis, the union agreed to a contract that put off salary increases to the 2013-14 budget year.
On Tuesday, Kathleen Casasa, president of the Portland Educators Association, said she had not had a chance to read the consultant’s report and had no comment on it.
In May, voters approved the 2013-14 school budget, which cut 36 teachers and 5.5 central office positions.
After receiving the report Tuesday, the school board referred it to the Finance and Personnel committees for review.
Board Chairman Jaimey Caron said the report would not necessarily lead to adding more people. The district has been working toward a central office restructuring for years in the wake of a financial crisis in 2007, when a $2 million deficit in the $82 million budget uncovered a host of financial management problems. The crisis led to the resignations of Superintendent Mary Jo O’Connor and Finance Director Richard Paulson.
Caron said there have been a number of changes in the central office since then, and that the board has been working to analyze the needs and restructure the central office.
“It’s been five or six years of us trying to get our arms around structuring and staffing,” Caron said.
The consultant’s report, he said, is a starting point to collect data and move forward on those changes.
“I’m very pleased we have a document we can work with,” Caron said after the presentation to the board. “I think this information gives us an objective place to start discussions.”
Evergreen also conducted a survey of district employees as part of its research, and Ling said only 10 percent of employees responded. In response to a board member’s question, he said it was a lower-than-expected response rate.
“Some employees came to us in confidence and said they were told not to participate,” Ling told the board. He did not elaborate, and noted that Evergreen did not include that information in the report.
Other consultant’s reports have raised the issue of whether Portland wants a business model that is more top-down, with a central office that determines curriculum and materials for all schools, or a more site-based model, in which the central office is smaller and has a more limited role.
“Portland has to decide where it needs to be on that continuum,” Caron said.
The budget for the year that started July 1 increased the schools’ portion of Portland’s property tax rate by 3 percent, adding $58 to the annual tax bill for a home with an assessed value of $200,000. The $96.4 million in spending is a 2.3 percent increase over the $94.2 million approved by voters last year.
Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at: