By Bill Turque
Sunday, May 9, 2010; C01
Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee is more than doubling the number of senior managers who oversee the District's 123 public schools, a move intended to put more muscle behind her efforts to raise teacher quality and student achievement.
Openings for 13 "instructional superintendents," with annual salaries of $120,000 to $150,000, were posted on the D.C. schools Web site late last month. Instructional superintendents directly supervise school principals, overseeing academic performance while troubleshooting personnel and student discipline issues.
The move comes as the school system deals with serious budget pressures. Rhee and District Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi continue to search for an additional $10.7 million to fully fund the proposed $135.6 million teachers contract. Rhee also faces, according to Gandhi, about $30 million in projected overspending, some of it because of the salaries of school-based special education aides, overtime and severance payments.
But Rhee said in an interview Thursday that the new administrators, who will be hired at an estimated cost of $2 million in salary and benefits, will not increase spending. Cuts to staff working under the existing six instructional superintendents, she said, will make the expansion "budget neutral."
"We're not growing the number of people," Rhee said.
The District now has five instructional superintendents assigned to clusters of 16 to 30 schools, organized in part by grade level. A sixth oversees eight alternative schools, including programs for incarcerated and at-risk youths.
Rhee said the clusters are too large for the instructional leaders to effectively oversee principals and their schools.
"They just couldn't provide the depth of support we wanted the schools to have. They were just spread too thin," she said.
In an e-mail to principals, interim chief academic officer Michael Moody said the school system is making the change based in part on concerns expressed by them.
"We believe that this new structure will better facilitate the type of management and support that you need to drive the type of change you want in your schools," Moody wrote, adding that the goal is to "fully transition to the new cluster structure by July 1." The job postings recommend -- but do not require -- that candidates have a minimum of three years' experience as a principal with a track record of success improving student achievement.
Moody's e-mail said creating smaller clusters would foster more collaboration and sharing of best practices. Moody also said that with the addition of the new superintendents, certain jobs, such as principal coaches and instructional specialists, "will no longer exist in the cluster offices." Rhee said some employees will be reassigned to other jobs.
The expansion would give each of the new instructional superintendents six or seven schools in the 45,000-student system. Fairfax County, the region's largest school system with 197 schools and 175,000 students, has eight assistant cluster superintendents. Montgomery County, with 200 schools and 142,000 students, has six community superintendents. But Rhee noted that the staffs under the cluster leaders are probably larger than those in the District.