By Mark E. Vogler
---- — LAWRENCE — One out of five employees of the Lawrence Public Schools’ central office staff won’t be working there after the academic school year ends on June 30.
In a major shake-up of the LPS administration’s headquarters at 255 Essex St., Superintendent/Receiver Jeffrey C. Riley announced plans to eliminate 25 positions while consolidating nine departments into five.
He said the changes, which had been anticipated for months, will save the school district $1.3 million — money that will be invested in staff and resources at the school level.
“We felt like we were too top heavy at central office and that the resources were better utilized down in the classrooms where the kids are,” Riley said.
“These are certainly not all easy or painless changes, but they are what’s needed to prioritize schools as the focus of every decision, every day. It should have been obvious to everyone long before now, but central office works for the schools — not the other way around,” he said.
Riley met individually Friday with central office staff to brief them on the reorganization and the 25 positions which will be eliminated. He stressed that most of the affected staff will have the opportunity to apply for other positions in the school district. He said he would provide them with more details next week.
“Some folks have rights to a teaching job in the classroom. If they were in one of the unions, they still have an opportunity to apply for a teaching position,” Riley said.
Ten of the people affected will fill existing teaching or nursing vacancies in schools while seven others will move to support roles across the school district.
Three of the job losses involve layoffs, four employees will retire and one chose to resign, he said.
“Of the three layoffs, two are management and one is a teacher that doesn’t have professional status,” Riley said, declining to elaborate on the position and the employee involved.
“I think people understood this was coming and it’s not a happy event. Some of the affected folks have been in the district for quite a while. But it wasn’t really about their performance. We made a decisions to place our funding where we needed it the most, at the individual school level,” he said.
This is the latest in a series of major changes initiated by Riley, 42, since he took over as the state’s overseer of Massachusetts’ most-troubled school system in January of last year. Riley got the job after the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education declared Lawrence Public Schools a “Level 5” school district for chronically underperforming.
During the first 16 months of a 3 1/2-year contract, Riley’s office has completed an extensive review of underperforming teachers and principals. This led to the replacement of 10 principals and the hiring of 160 new teachers for the school year that began last fall.
He expects it could take up to seven years to accomplish his mission to turn around the school district and return it to local governance.
“You’ll recall that when I arrived more than a year ago, I promised a critical look at every key segment of Lawrence Public Schools,” Riley said.
“When we’re finished implementing the changes, central office will be roughly 20 percent smaller while meeting the needs of schools, families and students faster and more effectively. They’ll have the support of a newly streamlined academic central office team that is able to keep its focus where it belongs — on teaching and learning in our schools — thanks to a more efficient department set-up,” he said.
Highlights of the central office reorganization include:
The creation of a Community, Family and Student Engagement Department to provide parents of the city’s 13,000 students better access to registration and other information they need to know about their child’s education. A “Family Welcome Center” sign will soon go up in the ground level office that will be staffed by five full-time employees, all working a wide range of student-related issues.
“We need to do a better job in connecting with our parents,” Riley said.
A new department that will focus exclusively on the School Department meeting state and federal compliance requirements.
“The “compliance-first” mentality that pulls attention away from instruction is a trap many districts fall into,” Riley said, noting that individual schools and central office academic staff will no longer have to handle government compliance issues and forms.
The creation of special offices for Educator Effectiveness, Operations and Administration and Special Education.
A priority to improve communications throughout the district, particularly in the sharing of “best practices.”
“So many of our schools are using exciting new academic models that neighbors and peers should learn from, and we’re making it a priority to help them do that,” Riley said.
The reorganization changes take effect with the adopting of a proposed 157.5 million budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Riley said more changes could be made if the money available from the state is reduced or the City Council votes for additional cuts to school spending.
“We’ve done the things we needed to do to put the school system on the right course,” Riley said.
“We looked at teachers. We looked at principals and assistant principals. And now we’ve looked at the central office. Now we’re in a position to move forward and concentrate on improving the academics of Lawrence Public Schools,” he said.