School System's Human Resources Office Is Criticized

By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Prince George's County public school system is scrambling to reorganize its human resources department after the release of an audit that found the office ineffective at filling positions quickly and infected with a sense of entitlement.

The 14-page study, conducted by educational consultant Jim Huge and Associates, identified a variety of problems within the department of about 100 employees. Sluggish, inconsistent and disorganized recruiting and hiring practices have led to employees accepting competing offers from other jurisdictions. The audit said some workers were unfit for their jobs or entirely disengaged, with a sense that they could never be fired.

"There seems to be a lack of a sense of urgency and accountability," Romaine Reid, chief of the human resources department, told the county Board of Education on Thursday night. "When an organization receives feedback like this, it is clear that it is time for a transformation."

Reid said all employees should be required to apply for posts in a redesigned organization -- the most extreme option suggested by the report.

Doris A. Reed, executive director of the Association of Supervisory and Administrative School Personnel, a union representing about 30 employees of the department, objected to this solution, telling the board that it was "a veiled attempt to get rid of certain individuals in the division without having to follow procedures outlined for unsatisfactory employees."

"The audit didn't say anything we didn't already know," Reed said. "No one is saying that HR doesn't need to be fixed. We've said for years it does. But you can't walk in and say, 'Everyone has to go,' when nobody's been given a chance."

The board voted to require school administrators to meet with union representatives to hammer out a plan for reorganization that would be presented in the next two weeks.

"We absolutely have to involve the unions and get their perspective," said board member Nathaniel B. Thomas (At Large). "It's critical to transform that office."

The report outlined numerous problems, such as employees avoiding the department's tracking software, the perception that records are frequently lost, and accusations that office employees violate confidentiality rules. But the most damning observations highlighted an office culture disconnected from the rest of the school system and sometimes divided against itself.

"Silos exist within the department, which results in a tendency to redo or undo work performed by others," the audit said. "Lost time and inefficiency add to employees' frustration. In addition, friction between some groups was evidenced through considerable blaming. This wastes energy, lowers morale and makes the work environment unpleasant."

The report said that although most employees were competent, a few were indifferent to their work.

"Some people, for a variety of reasons, appeared to be disengaged and/or unaware that processes are broken," the audit said. "These few individuals expressed little or no commitment to continuous improvement. Several internal HR staff members and external customers indicated that there is a lack of accountability within HR. . . . There is a sense among some that 'the system owes me.' "

Richard Putney, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2250, which represents some other employees, acknowledged the seriousness of the report and vowed to work with the administration on fixing the problems.

"It is so horrendous that I'm embarrassed," he said. "I can't believe they were getting a paycheck."

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