With its budget still in limbo, the Payson School Board this week grappled with sweeping changes in focus as it issued contracts that included a surge in positions on the administrative schedule.
Through three years of layoffs, the board had previously struggled to whittle away at the number of administrators. The board cut several administrative positions, including director of curriculum, a high school vice principal and others.
But this year, the district reversed the trend, with hiring of the new district director of student achievement, a vice principal at the high school, plans for a student achievement coordinator at three campuses and a district career and technical coordinator. The list of contracts even included someone to train bus drivers.
All of these new contracts — plus contract offers to all the existing teachers — comes by state requirement in advance of the state Legislature’s adoption of a budget, which will largely determine the district’s budget.
Some of the seeming increase in administration depends on how you define “administrator.” Superintendent Ron Hitchcock said positions like career and technical coordinator and the student achievement coordinators are really teaching positions — in some cases listed on the administrative schedule because the district decided on the administrative overhaul too late in the year to shift the contracts.
Still, some of the board members on Monday grappled with the addition of administrative positions at the high school and district office, although in the end the vote to issue the 128 teaching and 14 administrative schedule contracts was unanimous.
“I’m a little concerned we’re hiring another administrator,” said board member Shirley Dye, as Superintendent Ron Hitchcock went over the job description for the new position of career and technical education coordinator, an effort to comply with state requirements.
Hitchcock explained that the district needed both a director of student achievement and a career and technical coordinator to satisfy two different state mandates.
“But none of these positions are mandated,” said board member Rory Huff. By that he meant that the state does require each student to have a career plan, but doesn’t spell out how a district will meet that requirement.
Huff continued, “The problem I see is that we’ve spent the last four years reducing administration — and now this. It’s like we’re jumping into a different boat.”
“The common thread here,” said Hitchcock, “is that each of these positions is providing support for the classroom teacher.”
If the school principal has to focus intensively on boosting test scores and coming up with the required vocational plan, he or she will be overwhelmed.
“We have put every one of our building administrators in an untenable situation,” said Hitchcock. “The way we’re getting it done now is just flat not working. We can’t come up with a plan for every child, so we’re going to end up with egg on our face because we said we were going to do it.”
Director of Special Programs Barbara Fitzgerald rose from the audience to support the need for a vocational coordinator at the district office. “Part of the ‘Race to the Top’ (federal mandates) was to have all students thinking, ‘Why are we doing that?’ This is a critical position for student achievement.”
Hitchcock said that he also wants a designated volunteer coordinator at every campus, which might be a faculty member — or might be a community volunteer. That person will work to connect the campus to the community, which includes recruiting volunteers and making sure that they get a chance to share their expertise.
“We want to maximize what we know we have in the community — expertise,” said Hitchcock. “When people come in they end up doing something that doesn’t match their skill level — so they stop volunteering.”
“They come in and stuff envelopes,” agreed Quinlan, “and that’s not what they were looking for.”
Several board members also temporarily balked at the proposal to convert one of the bus drivers into a trainer of bus drivers, to avoid having to send drivers to the Valley for the 20 hours of behind-the-wheel and 14 hours of in-class training.
“So this is a new position?” asked Huff.
Technically — explained the district’s transportation director — although the district dropped a bus route to free up money for the position.
“Couldn’t we bring in somebody?” asked Huff.
“He can’t train the bus drivers while they’re on their routes, can he?” asked board president Barbara Underwood.
Hitchcock said the position helps give the ability to do the training it needs in town, rather than sending people elsewhere. “When you total up all the money we spend to send people away, get trained and come back, we can do our own professional development and monitoring on a more sustainable model.”
After the meeting, he noted that one way the district can come up with the money for some of the new positions is to curtail or redirect the roughly $400,000 in professional development for teachers it now funds.