PORTLAND – Recent scrutiny of special education programs in the city’s public schools is shedding light on similar problems across the district, according to school officials.

American Educational Consultants of Beachwood, Ohio, concluded that Portland schools could save $2.5 million on special education by restructuring administration, reducing staff and adjusting programs to improve instruction.

In particular, consultants found a lack of central oversight, missing or outdated job descriptions, uneven workloads and curriculum disparities among special education programs in the city’s 10 elementary, three middle and three high schools.

Superintendent Jim Morse and School Committee members say those deficiencies exist in other areas of Maine’s largest school district, and they’re taking steps to fix them.

”There seems to be a disconnect between central office and the schools,” said Liz Holton, committee member. ”I would like to see not only central office working more closely with the schools, but also the schools working better with each other.”

Morse, who became superintendent in July, said he plans to build on the strengths of Portland’s school administrators and other employees as they develop clearer goals for the district as a whole. He wants to foster greater collaboration, accountability, efficiency and effectiveness in everything from purchasing classroom supplies to improving student performance.

”We want to ensure central office functions are getting done while at the same time support leadership in the individual schools,” Morse said. ”We need to make sure youngsters are getting the education we’ve promised them.”

Morse has already taken steps in that direction. He called for a shared schedule for the high schools to allow greater sharing of teachers, students and resources. He has noted the need for a unified math program in the elementary schools, where now there are four. The curriculum subcommittee is poised to align learning programs across the district, Holton said.

Morse organized a community summit in December to develop the following draft vision statement, which will be up for a first reading at Wednesday’s committee meeting: ”Portland Public Schools serves as the crossroads for our diverse community, supports a healthy democracy and ensures all learners reach their highest potential in an ever-changing world.”

As part of the 2010-11 budget he’s scheduled to present March 3, Morse has promised to include an accurate staffing count and an equitable distribution of resources among the schools. The budget also will include an updated organizational chart that clearly delineates lines of responsibility throughout the district.

In addition, Morse has directed Human Resources Director Joline Hart to order a national catalog of school job descriptions and make sure every position in the district has a current, accurate description.

Morse called for the job description after Barbara Dee, Portland’s special education director for nine years, told committee members that her job description was written in 1974. ”That’s a long time ago,” Morse said.

The lack of current, accurate job descriptions may seem minor, but the impact of the void is far-reaching, said Peter Eglinton, committee chairman.

”Having clear job descriptions that identify specific duties of individuals is critical for managers, other staff members and the public to understand what employees are responsible for,” Eglinton said. ”As it is, when problems arise the temptation has been for staff to point to others or away from themselves. It makes it difficult to operate efficiently and makes all of our jobs harder.”

Eglinton said he hopes to develop job descriptions that accurately reflect the district’s current and future needs and empower school employees at all levels to do their best.



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