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Miami-Dade School Board OKs $14.8 million reorganization

With the School Board’s blessing, Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho will try to reorganize the nation’s fourth-largest school district and will start with his top staff.

Regional offices will condense, some departments will disappear, more than 100 positions could be cut, and all divisions are supposed sharpen their focus on the bottom line: teaching kids. Together, the moves aim to save $14.8 million.

“This is not driven by economic need. We do not need this reorganization to close the budget gap, even though it helps,” Carvalho told the board. Instead, he said it will move the district’s focus from compliance to emphasizing “teaching and learning in schools.”

The $14.8 million reorganization comes during budget season. At back-to-back meetings, the School Board approved the reorganization and gave the initial OK to the tentative $2.7 billion budget and a slightly lower tax rate for 2012-13. The few residents who spoke praised the financial plan.

“The classroom is our educational ground zero. The preservation of that classroom is our No. 1 priority,” said Sharon Watson, president of the Miami-Dade County Council of PTA/PTSAs.

The budget closes a gap of about $60 million, preserves teacher jobs and protects electives for students. At the same time, taxpayers would see a slightly lower tax rate. Increased property values, however, would push up the tax bill for the typical homeowner. “This is a values-based budget,” Carvalho said.

Said Board Chairwoman Perla Tabares Hantman: “I think it holds true to what we promised our community we would do.”

The reorganization will have two phases. Here are the key parts:

• The top-level staff will shuffle, with some new titles and a new position for an enterprise division officer, tasked with drumming up new revenue from the district’s assets.

• Regional offices will condense from four to three offices, with about 80 schools each.

• The office for low-performing schools, called the education transformation office, will support more schools, to help not only ones with D and F grades, but also ones in danger of slipping grades.

• Some schools will house new parent centers, so employees and parents can resolve issues, like transfers, with the principal there instead of having to trek to a region office.

• About 125 positions could be trimmed, primarily among administrators and mid-level managers who work downtown. Carvalho said he will task his top-level staff to evaluate their offices. That second phase of the reorganization will likely finish by November. There will maximum reductions for different employee groups: up to 5 percent of district administrators, up to 12 percent of mid-level managers, primarily downtown; and up to 5 percent of confidential exempt personnel.

• Across all departments, positions may be trimmed if the employee lacks necessary credentials. “Credentials, effectiveness on the job will be factors we will be looking into as we move forward,” Carvalho said.

Board members welcomed the reorganization. “Any time there is an opportunity for savings, and where you feel that we’re going to have increased efficiencies on top of that, is certainly something we should commend and be supportive of,” said board member Martin Karp.

The shuffle in the superintendent’s cabinet will see the retirement of the Deputy Superintendent, Freddie Woodson. Valtena Brown, a current regional superintendent, will be chief operating officer. Assistant Superintendent Dan Tosado will become chief of staff. Nikolai Vitti will leave the education transformation office, overseeing struggling schools, and will be the new chief academic officer. Replacing Vitti and leading the transformation office: Pablo Ortiz, former principal of Miami Edison Senior High.