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Chapter 1
DISTRICT ORGANIZATION AND MANAGEMENT

This chapter reviews the San Antonio Independent School District's (SAISD's) organization and management in six sections:

A. Governance
B. Policies and Procedures
C. District Management
D. School Management and Site-Based Decision Making
E. Planning
F. Legal Services

DISTRICT MANAGEMENT

SAISD has undergone substantial changes in recent years in terms of leadership, resources and performance as measured by student achievement.

One of the most visible changes has been turnover in superintendent leadership. The district has had three superintendents in the past six years. Victor Rodriguez, appointed as superintendent in 1982, retired in 1994 after 12 years of service. In 1994, Diana Lam became superintendent and implemented widespread changes in the organization, philosophy and management of the district. In November 1998, Lam left the district with a controversial and costly separation package; David Splitek served as interim superintendent from November 1998 to January 2000. In December 1999, the board selected Ruben Olivarez as superintendent. The new superintendent began serving in January 2000.

FINDING

TSPR found that the processes and procedures by which SAISD central administrative staff members communicate and coordinate district activities are effective. Regularly scheduled meetings, with agendas and minutes, are the primary means by which the superintendent manages the executive directors. These meetings generally attract full attendance and participation from attendees and have provided a critical thread of continuity among the district staff amid frequent changes in leadership and organization. This "management by meeting" appears to work, as district staff seem well-informed about issues facing the district as well as board directives and questions.

Among the most useful meetings are the weekly cabinet meetings held by the superintendent and the "steward" meetings (meetings between the executive directors in the Campus Leadership Division, associate superintendents and other executive directors). Those who attend these meetings suggest that they offer an effective way to address procedural questions or concerns and time to exchange creative thoughts and solutions to problems.

The district's process for reporting activities and decisions to the board and senior staffers also is noteworthy. For example, the superintendent distributes a Friday "Superintendent's Report" to board members that updates them on district events, requests and correspondence. Exhibit 1-10 shows the organization of the Superintendent's Report and a brief description of each item. This report is separate from notes and minutes taken at the regularly scheduled weekly meetings and is a valuable source of information for district administrators as well as the board.

Exhibit 1-10
Outline of Superintendent's Weekly Report

"Hats Off"
Special recognition for unique staff contributions and achievements

Board Member Concerns/Requests for Information
A complete list of board requests and questions raised during the week.

What's Happening in the Schools and Learning Communities?
Highlights of events in the schools from the week.

What's Happening in the Central Office?
Highlights of events in central administrative offices.

Attachments

Correspondence
A list of significant correspondence received during the week by the superintendent.

Calendar of Coming Events

Source: SAISD Superintendent's Office, September 1999

This report provides critical information to the board, reduces potential conflict among board members (since everyone knows what information other board members have requested), and provides a forum for the recognition of staff accomplishments.

Organizations that share information and direct their actions as effectively as SAISD are rare. District staff members are required to attend several long meetings each week (such as the cabinet meeting and principals' meeting) and for each meeting, agendas are distributed, minutes are taken and then circulated electronically, and action items are identified and assigned to committee members.

These protocols have many benefits, including a well-informed staff, consistent problem-solving, an electronic record of management decisions and time efficiencies.

COMMENDATION

Senior staff meetings are effective and exhibit first-class standards of protocol.

FINDING

SAISD's frequent changes in leadership, coupled with severe fiscal constraints, have contributed to morale problems in the district. During interviews and focus groups conducted by TSPR, many district administrators and principals provided anecdotes on poor relations among various staff members. Survey results support these anecdotes. One survey statement asked respondents to strongly agree, agree, disagree or strongly disagree with the statement "The morale of central administration is good." In each of four categories of respondents (district administrators and staff, principals and assistant principals, teachers and parents), at least twice as many respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed than agreed or strongly agreed.

In other survey statements, respondents expressed strong negative feelings about "central administration efficiency," and the "support of central administration for the educational process."

Exhibit 1-11 shows relevant statements and respondent answers.

Exhibit 1-11
District Administration and Support Staff Survey
Survey Question District Administrators and Support Staff
(n=336)
SA/A / D/SD
Principals and Assistant Principals
(n=100)
SA/A / D/SD
Teachers (n=379)
SA/A / D/SD
Parents (n=140)
SA/A / D/SD
The superintendent is a respected and effective instructional leader. 66/13 68/19 49/22 51/11
The superintendent is a respected and effective business leader. 64/15 72/14 47/20 NA
Central administration is efficient. 40/43 37/51 22/61 NA
Central administration supports the educational process. 60/20 58/34 35/48 NA
The morale of central administration is good. 22/52 18/46 16/30 42/11
Legend: Percent Strongly Agree and Agree/Percent Strongly Disagree and Disagree; NA = Not Asked Source: Survey conducted by TSPR, 1999.

Budget problems represent another major challenge facing the district. SAISD has taken extreme measures to reduce its spending. The current year's budget was reduced by imposing a hiring freeze for all vacant positions except instructional staff; eliminating certain administrative expenditures; increased energy efficiency to reduce utility costs; and the elimination of many travel and training expenditures. Many schools felt the fiscal constraints as SAISD adopted a policy of eliminating or reassigning assistant principal positions. The district also reassigned teachers as school enrollments dropped below expected levels.

Taken individually, SAISD's financial constraints, low morale, and lack of consistent leadership would each present a significant challenge. Together, these hurdles have resulted in profound animosities within the organization and substantial management challenges for the district's leaders.

Each superintendent has approached the complex issue of district organization with a different philosophy. From 1994 to 1999, the organizational structure of the district changed from a traditional organizational hierarchy to a symbolic "web" organizational structure developed by the former superintendent. The web-based organizational structure was designed to emphasize the superintendent's leadership at the center of the organization.

The web concept was based in part on a report by the consulting firm of USAA. The former superintendent hired USAA to perform a process review of central office operations and suggest an appropriate organizational structure for the district. USAA made recommendations in three major areas that eventually became the management philosophy underlying the web concept. The consultants found that the organization had too many managerial levels between schools and the superintendent, so they recommended developing "feeder systems"-a division of the district into four geographic regions. USAA also recommended that district support operations be organized into networks, including Finance, Plant Services, Administrative Support, Student Support, Information Systems, Planning and Change Management and Community Partnerships. Additionally, USAA proposed that each feeder system have a team leader, an academic team, and provide operational and administrative support. Finally, USAA recommended that each academic team include a lead instructional facilitator, an administrative liaison, a special education specialist and a special program monitor. Each academic team would report directly to its team leader.

Within the web, the former superintendent created four stewards to provide leadership and direction for schools. Each steward had professional experience as a deputy, associate or assistant superintendent, or had been a principal or director of a department for at least five years. The former superintendent chose the word "steward" to describe these leadership positions specifically because they held no formal rank within the organization. The steward designation did not survive the departure of the former superintendent.

The latest organization structure, announced shortly before the release of this report, reduces the number of stewards from four to two and retitles the position area superintendent for campus administration and places these positions under a deputy superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction and Campus Administration

Much of the controversy within the district concerning the former stewards springs from the organizational structure in which they operate. Executive directors facilitate their schools' needs and interests to get the support and resources they need. The abilities (and inclination) of a director in Campus Leadership to successfully "broker" negotiations with another division (for instance, to ask the Technology Department for assistance with school computers) forms the basis for each school's perceptions about the effectiveness of its particular director.

Other Texas school districts, like Houston and Corpus Christi ISDs, have adopted a concept of "vertical teams" to support their schools. The manner in which vertical teams are formed varies from district to district, but generally the teams comprise principals and central administrators and are led by a team leader or area superintendent. Vertical teams are intended to operate as smaller "districts" within the district. This type of organization allows central administrators to become familiar with individual schools' operations and needs as they work with them regularly.

Recommendation 14:

Build three "vertical teams" to provide an infrastructure of support for the district's schools.

Many elements of SAISD's current organizational structure are compatible with the concept of vertical teams. Schools already are organized into clusters and principals were already assigned to one of four executive directors. The current goal of the executive directors ("To provide leadership, guidance and motivation to the community of learners in the assigned schools to directly contribute to increased student achievement.") is consistent with the philosophy underlying a vertical team structure.

The Campus Operations Unit should be changed to three vertical teams that include staff from various departments in central administration to provide cross-disciplinary team support to schools. The former positions of the four executive directors in Campus Leadership should be eliminated and three new positions of area superintendent should be created, using the same compensation package as for the executive directors. Each area superintendent should lead one of the vertical teams. The new area superintendent positions should be posted to solicit applications. Job qualifications and responsibilities of the area superintendents should be more comprehensive than those of executive directors.

The four areas should be redesigned to form three vertical teams. As more central administrative staff will be available to support schools under the vertical team structure, the number of schools assigned to each vertical team could be increased from about 24 to 32. The learning communities coordinated by the Campus Leadership directors could easily be integrated into a vertical team structure, and in fact, could be strengthened through interaction of cross-disciplinary teams.

Each team should include a staff member from Human Resources, Finance, Student and Community Services, Special Education, Plant Services and Technology in addition to the principals of schools within the clusters and the area superintendents. These supporting staff members should be reassigned from their current central administrative location and placed with their new team members. Supervisory responsibilities for vertical team members should fall to the newly designated area superintendents.

Under this arrangement, schools could obtain technical assistance directly from supporting team members without relying on their area superintendent's negotiating skills. For example, if a principal had questions regarding appropriate technology purchases, he or she could call the vertical team office to speak directly with the technology team member.

While the recent reorganization reduced the number of former executive directors from four to two, renamed the positions area superintendents and assigned them under the deputy superintendent, TSPR believes that the area superintendents should be reduced to no less than three positions. This level would ensure that each area superintendent does not have too large an area of responsibility in a district with 95 schools.

IMPLEMENTATION STRATEGIES AND TIMELINE
1. The superintendent creates three vertical teams that include staff from various departments in central administration to provide cross-disciplinary team support to schools. July 2000
2. The superintendent develops job descriptions and qualifications commensurate with the new vertical team structure. July 2000
3. The superintendent reassigns schools to the three area superintendents based on their geographic location and the proximity of feeder schools. August 2000
4. The superintendent accepts applications for the area superintendent positions in Campus Leadership. September 2000
5. The superintendent, with input from executive directors in the Campus Leadership Division, the Human Resources, Finance, Student and Community Services, Plant Services and Technology Departments and the associate superintendent for Curriculum, identifies three staff members from each of these departments to be reassigned to the Campus Leadership Division. Each team should include a staff member from Human Resources, Finance, Student and Community Services, Special Education, Plant Services and Technology in addition to the principals of schools within clusters and the area superintendents. Supervisory responsibilities for vertical team members should fall to the newly designated area superintendents. October 2000
6. The area superintendents, working with the Plant Services and Operations directors, identify locations for offices for the new vertical teams in close proximity to the schools they serve and to their fellow team members. Team members should be located close to one another. November 2000
7. Area superintendents develop a process by which schools will interact with vertical team members. This process identifies goals (e.g., quick response, appropriate approvals for decision-makers) and establishes team meeting schedules. November 2000

FISCAL IMPACT

No new employees should be hired and existing facilities should be used to house vertical teams. However, SAISD would incur one-time costs for moving staff and equipment and building office space for the vertical teams. TSPR estimates these costs at $15,000. This estimate assumes moving costs are contracted out, though a small amount of staff time would be required to set up the new offices.

Savings associated with the move from four budgeted steward positions to three area superintendents are estimated at $93,381 plus 15 percent benefits, for a total of $107,388 per year, which is the average of the four executive directors' annual compensation packages. For the 2000-01 school year, the savings reflect the savings from the executive director compensation less the $15,000 one-time costs associated with moving to the vertical team structure.

Recommendation 2000-01 2001-02 2002-03 2003-04 2004-05
Build three "vertical teams" to provide an infrastructure of support for the district's schools. $107,388 $107,388 $107,388 $107,388 $107,388
Relocation costs for staff and equipment. ($15,000) $0 $0 $0 $0
Total Net Savings (Cost) $92,388 $107,388 $107,388 $107,388 $107,388

FINDING

TSPR's survey findings and interviews indicate that a majority of principals and teachers feel that central administration is not efficient and that central administrators do not support the educational process in schools. As in many other school districts, the job responsibilities of SAISD's central administrators keep them close to the central administrative office rather than individual campuses.

However, given its severe problems with morale, SAISD may benefit from consideration of the atypical central administrative job responsibilities required in Tyler ISD, for example. Tyler requires its central administrators to spend one hour per week in one of the district schools, enabling them to keep in closer contact with individual school activities and needs.

Recommendation 15:

Require SAISD central administrators to spend at least one hour per week in direct service support to schools.

The superintendent should develop a policy requiring all central administrative professional staff members to dedicate one hour per week to work in a school. The presence of central administrative staff in the schools in this capacity should boost morale in the schools and provide the administrators with a valuable learning experience.

Administrators should be encouraged to select one school to work with on an ongoing basis, and develop their service schedule in conjunction with the school principal and teachers.

IMPLEMENTATION STRATEGIES AND TIMELINE
1. The superintendent develops a district policy requiring central administrators to dedicate at least one hour per week to service in the schools. July 2000
2. District administrators identifies their schools of choice and contact the principals (or their designees) to coordinate service schedules. September 2000
3. The superintendent requires central administrators to report their service schedule monthly. Ongoing
4. Supervisors evaluate central office administrators annually based on their participation in providing direct service to campuses. Ongoing

FISCAL IMPACT

This recommendation could be accomplished with existing resources.