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Broward school board oks staffing changes, despite complaints the process was rushed

An image of Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Vickie Cartwright
Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald
Broward County Public Schools Interim Superintendent Vickie Cartwright attends a School Board meeting at the Kathleen C. Wright Administration Building in Fort Lauderdale on July 28, 2021.

The Broward County School Board has approved a reorganization plan that will cut academic positions, boost funding for communications and ultimately save the district an estimated $2.3 million. At a meeting Tuesday, the board signed off on the staffing shakeup proposed by Superintendent Vickie Cartwright, despite what some board members and community members said was a lack of transparency around the process.

Cartwright says the staff reorganization plan is a result of her own assessment of the strengths and shortcomings of Broward County Public Schools, and has been shaped by feedback from board members, staff and families in the district.

“It puts resources closer to our schools and makes them more readily available to our students,” Cartwright said. “It serves to remove silos by realigning resources within divisions to provide a continuum and continuity of services along with similar functionality. And perhaps more importantly, it streamlines the central office.”

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The board approved the plan by a 6 to 2 vote, with Members Patricia Good and Nora Rupert voting no. Member Ann Murray was absent.

Multiple board members complained that the long-anticipated proposal wasn’t released publicly until the Friday before Tuesday’s meeting. Some details weren’t published until the day before, leaving the board with just hours to review the position descriptions.

“Organization charts impacts people. It impacts employee morale. And it impacts public trust. And that’s not how you build public trust,” said Good.

Overall, 26 administrative positions will be eliminated and 23 positions added, with some jobs realigned or moved into different departments.

The plan also eliminates 42 other lower-paying staff positions. Twenty unspecified jobs, some of them vacant, will be eliminated from the Teaching & Learning department. Those positions make an average of $41,000.

Much of the $2 million dollars in savings will come from cutting more than $1 million dollars in the Student Services department, which oversees school social work, family counseling and foster care programs. Meanwhile the communications department will get the biggest boost, gaining $200,000 in funding for staff salaries.

With enrollment going down in Broward schools, Cartwright argued the district needs to invest in public relations.

“Our communications department has woefully been understaffed and underutilized. We continue to be responsive rather than progressive and we have to change that narrative,” Cartwright said. “We cannot be the best-kept little secret.”

In a letter to the board, Christina Chaparro of Oakland Park said the changes send a message about the district’s priorities.

“Cutting student services and boosting PR sends the message that the school board cares more about promoting an image rather than improving the actual quality of education,” Chaparro’s letter reads.

In response to complaints that the process was rushed, Cartwright said she held off on releasing the plan publicly until after notifying employees who would be affected by the changes.

At least one longtime staffer still felt blindsided, according to her husband. Ricky Grimaldo, the principal of Stephen Foster Elementary School in Fort Lauderdale, wrote to the board on behalf of his wife Mildred, whose position as the district’s Director of Literacy is being eliminated.

“She was notified of a meeting which was to occur two hours later where she was informed that her department was being removed from the organizational chart,” Grimaldo’s letter read. “No questions, no dialogues. Simply her life’s work torn away without ever having been given the professional courtesy to have a conversation regarding her team’s work and how that work may align with the direction of the district.”

Cartwright said the decision was part of an effort to break down institutional silos. Other literacy positions will be moved to other departments.

“I am keenly aware that our school system is only as good as our people. And many of our employees have dedicated their lives to serving our students in this district,” Cartwright said. “Sensitive to the individuals impacted by this reorganization, to the extent possible, it is my intent to ensure that impacted staff are provided other opportunities within our organization.”

Cartwright pledges that the reorganization will cut costs in the short term and redirect more resources to schools and students that need them. Board Member Donna Korn said she hopes the restructuring will extend to something less tangible as well: the district’s culture.

“You can have an org chart that does not change a culture and you don’t change anything,” Korn said. “Bring it to life with true culture change so that the teacher in the classroom feels it is a school-up district.”

Kate Payne is WLRN's Education Reporter. Reach her at kpayne@wlrnnews.org
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