Hundreds of CPS employees face potential layoffs to save $16 million

September 22, 2011

The promised reorganization of the top and middle layer of the CPS bureaucracy has been underway for the past few weeks, with hundreds of staffers receiving word that they no longer have a guaranteed position and won’t know for sure if they have a job til mid-to-late October.

District officials would not disclose exactly how many positions were closed out because they are hopeful that many will apply for new jobs and get them in the new structure.

“We hope they will find jobs that they will be happier in,” said Alicia Winckler, chief human capital officer. 

This re-organization, however, will not yield the type of savings that district officials need to find. When all is said and done, the central office staff will only be trimmed by about 200 positions. This will save the district about $16 million--far less than the $50 million they committed to in the budget.

When the budget was passed in August, district leaders told board members that at the September 28 board meeting they will detail additional cuts. The cuts are necessary because, without them, the district will run a deficit. By law, the district must have a balanced budget.

In the coming weeks, district officials will be looking for more savings.

“We are about 33 percent of the way there,” said Noemi Donoso, chief education officer.

CPS officials found savings by restructuring the central office and shrinking the number and size of what-used-to-be-called area offices and are now called network offices. New district leadership had commissioned an audit to look at teaching and learning and recommend how to make the varied departments more efficient.

In early September, district officials got the audit, which was done by a panel of education experts led by Robert Peterkin, a Harvard professor.

They settled on four key departments under Chief Instruction Officer Jennifer Cheatham. They are: strategy, research and accountability; curriculum and instruction; pathways to college and careers and professional learning.

All other big departments, except for special education and early childhood education, will disappear and be integrated under these departments or migrate to an entirely different area on the organization chart.

For example, the Office of Academic Enhancement won’t exist anymore and instead some of it will be under curriculum and instruction, while the admissions process will be under the new Chief Portfolio Officer whose jobs it is to try to make sure that good schools are evenly distributed throughout the city.

Other goners are the Office of World Language and Culture and  Humanities, which was just created last year. Though CPS officials stress that the functions of these departments, such as bilingual instruction, will still happen, just under a different name.

“We are not eliminating what they do, we are just integrating them into the new departments,” Donoso said.

Donoso stressed that the reorganization was only partly done to save money. “We are focused on figuring out the right structure so every service we provide to schools is of the highest value,” she said.

Back in August, district leadership announced that they were going to eliminate area offices and create network offices. Most of the staff in the area offices were allowed to stay in their positions through the opening of school, but in the first week they were told they would have to re-apply for new positions or be out of work.

Area offices had an average of 14 staff in them, though some had as many as 24 people. Network offices will have between eight and 11 positions with only be five standard ones, including a family and community engagement manager and a data strategist.

Donoso says she sees the main role of the network offices as building the “instructional capacity” of the principal, while area offices worked with entire schools and included literacy and math instruction coordinators, as well as management support directors.

While employees in central office generally agree with the idea of not duplicating services and the need to save money, some were not happy with the approach taken by the administration.

For one, everyone was called into a meeting and was told you will either be laid off, keep your job or get a new one. But employees had to wait until individual meetings over the next couple days to learn their fate.

“That was very traumatic,” said employee, who kept her job.

 Also, the leadership presented this reorganization as though no one has ever tried to reshuffle the deck before.  But most central office employees have gone through this many times, the employee points out.

Even under this strain, the employee says that central office staff have been working hard to get schools what they need.

“There has been no interruption,” she said. “We are professionals.”