A major Broward School District overhaul that cuts more than $1 million from academics while adding nearly $200,000 to public relations received a reluctant blessing from the School Board.
The reorganization saves $2.3 million, Superintendent Vickie Cartwright said. Most of that will come from eliminating 37 jobs in teaching and learning and finance that have average salaries of less than $40,000.
The district also is changing the duties of many administrators and reducing the number of administrator positions by three. The plan creates a new structure with three “area superintendents” who will be responsible for overseeing schools in the north, south and central parts of the county.
Cartwright said there are enough vacant positions in the district that she doesn’t expect anyone to be laid off.
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Some School Board members complained that the plan was rushed, and they wished the cuts involved more high-level administrative positions. Still, they voted 6-2 Tuesday to approve it, with Patti Good and Nora Rupert voting no. Ann Murray was absent.
“If this doesn’t work, that’s on the superintendent, and she can own it,” School Board member Sarah Leonardi said. “If it does work, we’ll be all the better for it as a district.”
Cartwright said the plan better aligns job duties and reduces duplication. She said it’s also necessary to cut costs due to declining enrollment.
One of the jobs being cut is the literacy director. Mildred Grimaldo, who holds that position, will be placed elsewhere, but the move was still devastating, her husband, Ricky Grimaldo, wrote to the board. He said she learned of the change during a hastily called meeting Thursday.
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“No questions, no dialogue — 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,” wrote Ricky Grimaldo, who is principal at Stephen Foster Elementary in Fort Lauderdale.
While academic positions took a big hit, the district’s communications department received a $192,000 increase. The change adds a new position and increases the salaries of two others. Cartwright first proposed a $218,000 increase but cut some costs by downgrading an executive director of communications to a director. The change also increases the salary and benefits for the chief of communications by $26,000.
Some public speakers criticized the district for enhancing public relations while cutting academic positions.
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“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,” Christine Chaparro, of Oakland Park, wrote to the board.
Cartwright said the increase to the “understaffed and underfunded” communications department is needed.
”Every time I go to our school sites in the community, I’m seeing and learning about wonderful things, but who knows about them?” she asked “We cannot continue to be the best kept little secret.’”
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The School Board approved three new jobs in 2019 to help counter the district’s image problem following the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.
Several board members said the changes should have been discussed in-depth at a workshop. Good blasted Cartwright for waiting until Friday night to post the reorganization. Cartwright had planned to wait until Monday but posted it earlier after complaints from the South Florida Sun Sentinel and board members.
“What causes me concern is the lack of transparency,” Good said. “I don’t think this is the way to build trust with the public.”
Cartwright said the plan needs to set by June 30 to be in place for the next budget year, so time is running out. She said the plan was still being developed until last week, and she wanted to inform affected employees before it became public.
“We owe it to our employees to have that conversation rather than them see it online when it’s posted,” Cartwright said.