Home Commentary Op-ed OLD EDUCATION PLAN WORTH A NEW LOOK NOW

OLD EDUCATION PLAN WORTH A NEW LOOK NOW

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As we embark upon the many tasks associated with improving the state of our educational system, we should consult the reorganization plan that was developed and implemented by the Farrelly-Hodge administration. It is believed that the Farrelly-Hodge plan was well designed and should serve as a model to be expanded upon, refined and, finally, adopted as the organizational framework for a redesigned education system.
This should be done notwithstanding the many complaints heard about excessive staffing within the Education Department under the original plan. When the plan was developed, a sincere attempt was made to delineate "state" (or territorial) level functions of the department separate from those that are the bailiwick of the "local education agencies" — the two local school districts.
In many important ways, this delineation reflected the almost universal formulation of education governance plans throughout the country. When made operational, the delineation of levels of governance allowed different sets of individuals to focus on their respective levels of responsibility.
The commissioner of Education had opportunities to function in a way equivalent to that of a state commissioner of education — concerned with developing a departmental budget, establishing departmental standards, monitoring compliance with federal mandates, planning system wide, and carrying out testing and evaluation, among other state-level activities including accreditation.
'State' vs. local levels of governance
Unlike the bizarre arrangement that currently has the commissioner of Education functioning as if he/she is also the district superintendent, the Farrelly-Hodge plan attempted to conform to well-established state and local levels of educational governance.
The two insular superintendents exercised oversight of all school district activities –whatever was required of them to ensure that school administrators and their personnel were supported in their efforts to deliver the necessary materials, supplies, parts and supervision to support their responsibilities at the school level.
Each insular superintendent's office was staffed with two assistant superintendents. In the St. Thomas-St. John district, one assistant superintendent had direct oversight for day-to-day physical plant, maintenance, school lunch program and school bus transportation issues as major functions of that office. Due to his experience as a former principal of the largest elementary school in the district, he also served as a resource person for elementary education issues in the superintendent's office.
The other assistant superintendent worked closely with school principals and teachers in monitoring and providing leadership in curricula and teaching affairs at the school level. Subject-area coordinators who were specialists in their fields assisted this individual. Since our offices were in proximity to each other, we were able as senior administrators of the school district to exchange ideas and discuss important issues among ourselves regularly as well as on an ad hoc basis.
Our office also was charged with administering collective bargaining agreements with six or seven groups of our more than 1,200 unionized employees.
Notwithstanding complaints about overstaffing in some areas of the department (and I agree that better could have been done in that regard), the basic model of the reorganization plan was sound, and it was superior to what exists today. The original reorganization plan should be revisited and refined as needed in any effort to reorganize the department beyond its current configuration.
District-level decentralization
In addition to the issues associated with the reorganization of the department, it is imperative that careful study be undertaken to address the negative impact of other government agencies on the department as it attempts to discharge its duties to its student-clients.
Education at one time had its own property and procurement unit. Its functions were later removed and centralized into the government's Property and Procurement Department — a move that was not progressive! The educational system must develop the capability to pay its vendors and to respond promptly to the needs of our schools and not depend on the Property and Procurement Department or the Finance Department to make purchases and to pay vendors, respectively.
Many of these functions can be handled well at the school district level. Perhaps the department also can develop the capability to handle its own personnel and payroll functions. It is after the implementation of changes like these that critical components of site-based management can become a reality, rather than a dream, within the system.
When many rules and regulations that govern all government departments generally are applied to Education, they often frustrate efforts to improve efficiency and service delivery. Treating the department and the education system as just another department of government contributes in a major way to many of the problems within the system.
The Legislature must consider carefully what should be done about these impediments to progress. It should also decide what to do with the Board of Education. Can many of the functions currently carried out by the board be carried out more efficiently by a redefined "state" (or territorial) Office of the Commissioner of Education? Can the financial resources currently required to maintain the board be better utilized in supporting governance at the school level?
If there is to be a board, how should it be established — elected or appointed or a combination of both? Is the board an anachronism? Should the position of chancellor be established between the territorial-level commissioner and the superintendents, as some have suggested? These questions are all relevant to discussions on redesigning the educational system, and they should be explored intently before any legislative changes are adopted.

Editor's note: Gaylord A. Sprauve, a retired government administrator, served as superintendent of schools in the administrations of governors Juan Luis and Alexander Farrelly.
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