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Superintendent William Hite plans to expand executive ranks at the School District of Philadelphia amid an ongoing budget crisis, according to a new organizational chart released to City Paper. Last year's chart listed 47 positions, while this year's lists 57. Such jobs typically pay more than $100,000 per year, and several are assigned to politically connected staffers.
One is Loree Jones, who served as chief of staff to the School Reform Commission under Chair Pedro Ramos, before he resigned in October.
Jones will be the head of Family and External Relations, a newly created office that will oversee a handful of other departments within the school district — including a similar office that had been established last year and headed by Evelyn Sample-Oates, with the purpose of overseeing that same group of departments.
Jones' new position "will provide strategic and operational oversight over key external relations functions," according to an e-mail from District spokesperson Fernando Gallard. "It will specifically be charged with improving better services to parents and school communities."
But Jones' job description closely matches one already assigned to Sample-Oates: "To run the District's engagement initiatives with parents and the community-at-large," according to an October 2012 email from Hite.
The new administrative jobs appear to be redundant.
Jones has worked closely with Ramos for years. After Ramos resigned as Mayor John Street's Managing Director in 2007, Jones succeeded him that position. As SRC chief of staff, Jones earned $129,000.
It is unclear how much she will now earn—the District says her salary has not yet been determined. Other top central office staffers typically make between $129,000 and $210,000 a year. Hite makes $270,000.
The reshuffling comes as City Councilman Bill Green takes office as SRC chair. He will likely hire his own chief of staff.
Green's former chief of staff in Council, Sophie Bryan, was paid a salary of $100,000 to run the District's charter school office. Under the new organizational chart, however, Bryan occupies the newly created position of Special Assistant to the Office of the Superintendent. The District says that such a position had previously existed before Hite's arrival, and that Bryan is primarily engaged in labor negotiations.
The District did not say what Bryan's new salary is, or would be. It is also unclear whether she will remain in her new position, or follow her old boss to the SRC.
The School District can provide a comfortable landing pad for City Hall veterans. Last year, the District hired former Department of Licenses & Inspections chief Fran Burns as its chief of operations. She is now paid $175,000. At what was likely a much bigger job at L&I, she was paid just $125,000, according to Philadelphia Magazine.
The School District initially denied City Paper's request for the organizational chart, contending that it was a "draft" and not yet finalized. Today, it released the document after CP filed an appeal with the state Office of Open Records.
While central office staff have been reduced by about 40-percent since 2011, Hite has been criticized in the past for paying excessive salaries to top employees while overseeing widespread layoffs of teachers, nurses, counselors, and support staff. In November 2012, the Daily News reported $311,351 in salary increases to non-union workers primarily clustered in District information technology, human resources, finance and grants, and compliance.
According to a District fact sheet, the "updated organizational structure is aligned to the District's Action Plan v2.0 — a set of six strategies to accomplish overarching goals tied to improved student outcomes."
School spokesperson Gallard says that a "new revised Action Plan will be released within a week and will further illustrate the need for an organization that is designed to support key core educational goals."
The District says that one new office, the Strategy Delivery Unit, "is a monitoring position which primary role is to track the District's progress against its strategic priorities and the goals the District outlined in its Action Plan."
Another office, Strategic Partnerships, reflects the District's increasingly reliance on private-sector support. The office is tasked with managing "the District's relationship with...the non-governmental funders that play an important role in funding District programs."
Controversy has surrounded the involvement of outside groups like the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP), an entity friendly to charter schools and hostile to the teachers union, and the William Penn Foundation, in School District decision-making and funding. The office is headed by former Philadelphia Youth Network CEO Stacy E. Holland. Holland, who also served as a board member at PSP, makes $160,000.
The District says it has raised about $3 million since the position was created.
The overall cost of any new six-figure salaries created this year—and it is unclear how many new hires will ultimately be made—cannot yet be calculated. What is certain is that the District faces yet another huge budget deficit in the coming fiscal year, and a fresh round of mass layoffs is likely if significant support from Harrisburg and City Hall are not forthcoming.
Correction: This story has been updated to note that Sophie Bryan left the charter school office last summer to work as a special assistant to Superintendent Hite. Documents provided to City Paper by the District indicated that she currently directs the charter office.
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