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Memphis City Schools to hire 23 business leaders Managers to ease principals' work loads

Ohanian Comment: Certainly a school's instructional leader should be spending his time on instructional issues, not maintenance schedules and bus routes, but it's fascinating how people running the schools can find what research suits them. I don't support merit pay but this decision seems rather cavalier. With no bus schedules or cafeteria control to worry about, the pressure will be on principals to become instructional leaders. I'm sure a number of them would rather count light bulbs.

I don't like to see cafeterias become places "managed" by people who don't know the kids. The presence of the principal and teachers in the cafeteria improves a school's climate.

By Jane Roberts

A year before the city and county schools are expected to merge, Memphis City Schools plans to spend nearly $1 million to hire 23 business managers to help run its schools.

With federal money it set aside to pay bonuses to teachers and principals, the district intends to hire the seasoned business managers as early as this spring.

Their job will be to oversee school maintenance schedules, bus routes and cafeteria issues, plus manage non-teaching staff and after-school programs.

If the pilot works like district leaders hope, the managers will assume 60 to 70 percent of the daily load of running a school, allowing principals to focus on the key work of instruction, including observing faculty for annual performance reviews, according to Deputy Supt. Irving Hamer.

"If we get good evaluation data from the pilot, we would then scale up to another cohort and gradually build up so that all schools have such a person," he said.

The 23-school test will cost $960,000 and will be covered in federal Race to the Top funds. The best-qualified candidates will earn about $52,000 a year.

The teachers' union is livid over the use of money intended to reward teachers and principals in low-performing schools.

"A business manager does nothing to increase teaching and learning," said teacher union president Keith Williams. "If the money can reduce class sizes, it would be much greater benefit than hiring another person that will not have contact with children.

"We need teacher assistants. This does not serve children. It serves the administration."

Hamer said the district scrapped the bonus pay idea because research shows it does not produce better test scores. He also said the district could not justify bonuses that would be based on last year's evaluation model.

City and school leaders also question the move after a federal judge last summer directed MCS to wind down its affairs before the August 2013 merger of the school systems.

"I would hope any district decision regarding new programs or drastic changes would go very slowly until we know more about the landscape going forward," said unified Shelby County Schools board member Chris Caldwell.

Hamer refuted the idea that the school district should be winding down operations.

"We have to keep doing our work in the best way we know how. We are not in winding-down mode."

City council member Myron Lowery described the spending as "business as usual" in spite of the judge's order. "I believe that type of expense and hiring should be approved by the current board," he said.

The expenditure, however, does not require board approval because it is not coming out of the general fund.

One of the key concerns, Hamer said, has been how to fund the positions when the federal funding expires. "If the pilot proves that a school business manager is useful we would have to change the staffing model so that every school or every cluster of schools would have school business managers," he said.

While he hopes to have the pilot in place before the end of the school year, he also says that starting it now won't relieve the time crunch for principals on a deadline to complete teacher observations by March 2.

With the new state teacher evaluation process in place, principals in big schools are spending hundreds of hours per semester observing teachers and going over the results. At the end of the first semester, principals in many city schools were behind on their observations.

— Jane Roberts
Memphis Commercial Appeal





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