Prince George's School Superintendent Iris T. Metts said yesterday that she intends to reduce her central office staff by 10 percent--about 150 positions--a move that would save the system as much as $10 million that could be redirected to other needs.
Less than a month into her tenure, Metts has determined that the central office could be leaner and more efficient, and she said she can reorganize the staff without firing anyone, although she may have to reassign some administrators to schools, where they could be principals or teachers.
With the savings, Metts said, she will supplement areas that need more resources, including student transportation, teacher recruitment and retention, and upgrading the system's technology.
"We want to concentrate all our efforts to support the principal and teachers," Metts said. "The central office is a service to make sure schools are supported. That's what we've been doing for the past two weeks--streamlining the process and establishing direct lines of communication."
Metts, who replaced Jerome Clark on July 1, returned from a week-long vacation to look at the to-do list she'll start tackling before school begins Aug. 30. In addition to reorganizing her staff and improving technology, Metts said she is focusing on revamping the curriculum to make it more compatible with state exams; studying teacher salaries to determine where the biggest gaps are between Prince George's and other districts; hiring about 300 more teachers before the end of August; and solving a controversial busing issue for students at magnet schools.
Metts also has planned a convocation for employees and others in the 128,000-student school district at US Airways Arena on Aug. 27. She said she is pursuing U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley as the keynote speaker and intends to announce a "major partnership" with the Prince George's business community.
Metts declined yesterday to give details about that partnership, but she said one component includes recruiting up to 10,000 mentors to volunteer to help students.
"I got 10,000 in Delaware, so I think I can get 10,000 here," said Metts, who was that state's education secretary for two years and was a superintendent of the Christina School District in Wilmington, Del., before coming to Prince George's.
But the restructuring of the central office staff appears to be Metts's top priority. An audit of the school system last year said that the staff was bloated and inefficient, and Metts agrees.
School sources said yesterday that Robert Slade, the highest-ranking deputy remaining from Clark's administration, will resign. That would clear the way for Metts to bring in her own advisers, although she would need approval on her selections from the school board.
Two weeks ago, Metts told the county's Board of Education that she would like to hire as her full-time deputies the four out-of-state consultants who are helping her evaluate the system and that it will require high salary offers. Metts earns a base salary of $160,000 per year.
Metts said her proposal to send some unneeded central office administrators back into the schools would help solve the system's near-crisis-level shortage of certified teachers and principals. But representatives of the county's union of administrators and principals said they would oppose such a move.
"There's definitely a need for teachers, but as people who have been certified in administration . . . to put them back into the classroom is a demotion," said Linda Waples, the union president. "The contract says you can be moved to lateral positions . . . but any demotion would come up with the union."
Metts said she would redirect some money to help provisionally certified teachers earn full certification and other funds to improve the system's technology to help teachers order classroom supplies electronically. And she wants each employee to have an e-mail account and Internet access.
Using the Internet also would make school business more accessible to parents, Metts said. She intends to post bus route changes online, which would help her phase in a plan to end door-to-door busing service for magnet school students. That controversial measure was approved by the school board earlier this month.
But Metts said she will phase in the plan slowly and will not end door-to-door service for students in remote areas of the county who find it hard to get to centralized bus stops.
Despite all the challenges, Metts remained upbeat.
"It's very doable," she said. "I'm extremely excited about the opening of school. We're moving along."