A Forceful Reduction in Force as HISD Central Office Employees Get Out Their Resumes

Following a time-honored tradition employed by nearly all governmental and business entities, Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles delivered a tough end-of-day, end-of-week message last Friday to more than 500 central office employees: you don’t have a job anymore.

There will be more pink slips to follow.

Yes, some employees can apply for other jobs in HISD, but as Miles said in his announcement, but there aren’t appropriate places for all of them.

In his press conference, Miles repeated a point he’s made several times. “The central office’s numbers and expenditures have increased 61 percent in six years. At the same time, we’ve lost 27,000 students."

Ironies abound in this decision. While HISD superintendents have agreed for years that the central office staff needed to be winnowed, few did little to anything about it and often instead grew the numbers. And while many in the public and a number of teachers saw a large central office as a sign of rot at the core of HISD (more teachers, not more administrators was the chant) did they really want to see a diminished Human Resources department and fewer learning specialists? Maybe so, maybe not.

All this comes at a time that the district is embarking upon Miles’ New Education System initiative particularly in the 28 schools designated to be part of a completely new curriculum, with more NES-Affiliated schools yet to be determined. “We’ll be able to do it with the people that we have,” Miles assured in response to a question Friday.

Also ironic: the timing of this given last Wednesday’s payroll debacle when several employees didn’t get paid; the blame laid at the feet of technological glitches and thanks to the absence of three HISD key officials on payday. Before that, what has been described as a small group of employees received notices that they’d been terminated. They had not.

Miles Friday said those errors had nothing to do with the reorganization. He went on to say being more efficient and effective will help HISD’s central office deliver services better.

“Reorganizations are hard. There are real people behind the numbers,” Miles said. “We want to make sure that we do this in a way that’s respectful but also in enough time for people to apply for other jobs if they don’t get a job during this reorganization or to transfer jobs in this organization. “

Miles said his administration has been studying the reorganization over the last several weeks and the heads of different departments have started with any vacancies they already have, deciding whether to fill those vacancies or eliminate those position. After that their goal was to come up with an organization both effective and efficient, while tied to the goals of the district.

By July 17, “most of this will be finished,” said Miles, adding that he’ll have a better number of departures at that point.

Positions in Human Resources will be reduced by about 40, and those in the Chief Academic Office by between 500 and 600 positions, or close to 30 percent of the people in that office. Of those, about 10 percent were already vacant, he said.

“It’s not just those two departments. There will also be a reorganization of communications, school leadership, professional development,” Miles said.

“The ones we didn’t reorganize yet are finance and the chief operations office. Those we didn’t want to disturb right now because we’re actually in the middle of transporting kids in summer school and nutrition services,” Miles said. “And they’re larger organizations and it takes more time to make sure we do it in a way that is sound and will maximize our efficiencies.“ Those changes will take place more over the year versus during this summer, he added.

“This by no means means that people haven’t been working hard or that people aren’t doing the job they were assigned to do . This is about making sure we right size central office and also work most efficiently."

By May, a steam of high level staff members left HISD before the Texas Education Agency-ordered takeover of the district. Among them was Deputy Superintendent Rick Cruz, known for founding the EMERGE program that worked with high performing students from low-income backgrounds helping them attend and graduate from the best universities in the country.

Others included Police Chief Pedro Lopez Jr., Chief Talent Officer Jeremy Grant-Skinner and Max Moll the district's chief engagement officer. While departures like this with a change in leadership are not unusual, by doing so before the rush, they were clearly ahead of the curve.