New with the school year this fall is Superintendent Keith Beeman’s reorganization of the leadership structure of Billings School District 2.
Instead of nine department directors who report directly to the superintendent, SD2 now has a layered structure where department heads report to assistant superintendents who in turn report to Beeman.
“What this structure does is allow us to be more effective,” he said.
The move opens more communication between individual departments — something that had been lacking under the previous system — and encourages administrators to look to each other for collaboration, he said.
“Our goals as a board, one of them, was to develop a high-performing central-office leadership team,” said Barbara Bryan, board chairwoman.
But the change — or rather, information on the cost of the change — has opened a rift among trustees.
Trustee Pam Ellis has complained that her requests to know exactly how much the change in leadership has cost the district have not been adequately answered.
In making the changes last spring, the district hired two new administrators; Josh Middleton, who had been superintendent of Laurel Public Schools and Brenda Koch, superintendent/principal at Elysian School.
“They specifically will not answer the question,” Ellis said.
So using numbers pulled from the district budget, Ellis calculated that now it costs the district roughly $400,000 more this year to employ the administrators it now has.
Beeman described the Ellis figures as inaccurate.
He acknowledged the district will be spending more on the 21 administrators it now has in the Lincoln Center, the warehouse and facilities office, but said that overall, SD2 will be spending less on administrators this year than last.
With two new hires and with individual promotions, the district will be spending on the 21 nonschool administrators $90,000 more than it spent on them last year.
Overall, SD2 spent $5,847,692 on administrative salary for the 2010/2011 school year and has budgeted to spend $5,826,031 on it this year, a difference of $21,661, he said.
That figure — $5,826,031 — covers the salaries of all 66 district administrators — including the 21 non-school administrators — from assistant principals up to the superintendent.
Beeman noted that last year SD2 had 67 administrators.
Ellis argues that it’s simply a shell game with district officials moving around numbers and figures to show what they want the public to see.
Paying more for administrators means the district is spending less on students, she said. She pointed to assistant principals from West High and Senior High who have been transfered to work at the Lincoln Center.
“That’s a direct cut in services for kids,” she said.
Beeman said the decision to move the assistant principals to Lincoln Center was an idea proposed by the district’s high school principals. It evens out the number of administrators at the three high schools, he said.
The assistant principals who moved downtown will be in charge of data and assessment research on high school student performance.
One of the biggest changes to the leadership structure was the creation of the east and west “cohorts” within the district.
SD2 schools have been divided into two groups, one overseen by Kathy Olson — who had been director of elementary education for the district — and the other by Koch.
The cohorts are grouped roughly by high schools and the elementary and middle schools that feed into them. The east cohort has Senior High and Skyview High. The west has West High and the Career Center.
The idea is to open lines of communication along the pathway of elementary schools, middle schools and high schools that a student follows from kindergarten to senior year.
“That, I think, is a pretty significant change,” Bryan said.
Beeman hopes the new organization will encourage teachers and principals from one school to call their counterparts at other schools to seek out advice, trade ideas or consult on how to help students with whom their counterparts may already be familiar.
“It gives us a K-12 conversation,” Beeman said. “We are not in isolation. We do not work independently of each other.”
Ellis said she applauds efficient leadership and any move made to help students. But she believes Bryan and Beeman are working to silence any voice of opposition they encounter on the board or in the community.
Bryan rejected that characterization.
“The communication issues are Pam’s entirely,” Bryan said.