The Polk County School District has a $1.3 billion budget. That’s billion. With a B. The people who direct that budget work primarily at the central Bartow Office. But good luck trying to figure out who has responsibility for what in spending your education money. Good luck figuring out which human beings actually supervise which human beings.
The $1.3 billion Polk School District does not have an organizational chart matching human names to bureaucratic positions. Our School Board, chock full of “business people,” has not thought to order the creation of one. And Kathryn LeRoy’s administration certainly did not provide one of its own initiative.
I recently discovered this firsthand when I asked the district’s very responsive public records specialist, Ann Marshall, for a copy of the org. chart of top administrators. She had to ask HR for it. HR told her to look at the website, where there are multiple links to multiple org. charts of positions. See here.
And then HR provided a separate spreadsheet of names and positions. It was up to me to do the grunt work of matching the human names to the chart of positions and supervisory relationships.
It took me about two hours of work to do it on three large sticky sheets. You can see most of my illegible product here.
For instance, if I wanted to figure out who answers to Jacque Bowen, Associate Superintendent and Chief Academic Officer, I had to click a couple of different links to see all the positions and how they relate to one another. Then I had to go to the spreadsheet and find the right name for the right position and write the name into my poorly hand-drawn little position boxes.
I’m in the process of reducing this to a powerpoint slide, which I’ll then happily provide to the district free of charge if they want it. Because I am public-minded.
How does this seemingly minor detail underscore the core cultural problem with District Office level administration? In two ways.
1) It shows that the Polk’s highly paid top administrators — as a group — cannot seem to think about the function of Polk public education from the point-of-view of “customers.” These are students, teachers, parents, and taxpayers. We are all paying — through taxation — for a vital service. Yet, when we customers ask a question or lodge a complaint or make a suggestion, we generally get told to go find the links on the website and match it to the spreadsheet on your own damn time.
There are, of course, exceptions to this. I have heard fairly consistently that John Small is quite responsive. It’s encouraging that Jackie Byrd has made him her deputy superintendent. But he’s also retiring soon. Similarly, I have heard good things about Michelle Townley, senior director of K-12 Reading. But it’s hard to discuss the performance of individuals intelligently when the district does all it can, seemingly, to hide individuals from public awareness.
This culture of isolated indifference at the Bartow Office level affects everything — Heather Wright’s testing environment, the tangle of ESE education, the failed LIIS system, and simple movement between schools. In fairness, we are a large system with many complexities. But that should provide great urgency for our Board members and top administrators to simply act helpful and welcoming to public questions and input. Too often, the opposite is true. Too often, the public is an annoyance.
It’s this culture that led Hunt Berryman to keep his knowledge of LeRoy/Rivers quiet for a year. It’s this culture that caused Berryman to get mad that the public found out about his silence, not about what LeRoy did to the public. We must change this culture to make any real progress.
2) Accountability only has teeth if it’s personal. By separating human names from roles, we make it very, very, very hard to address administrative performance. Every single top administrator should be a public figure under public scrutiny. As of now, the public generally has no idea who any of these people are that have great impact on their lives. I don’t know if that’s by design. But it doesn’t really matter. As long as we think in terms of bureaucratic sounding roles rather than individuals, accountability won’t mean much at all for administrators. And that’s where our worst issues lie.
I have had hundreds — if not thousands — of conversations with people about Polk education. I have yet to hear anyone say, “Man, the Bartow office is so helpful and easy to deal with.” I certainly can’t say it in my own experience. That’s a problem. I want to solve it. And we can start with a freaking org. chart.
And I promise you, whether I’m elected or not, whether I’m inside the power structure or outside of it, my public mission in life has become to create a culture of responsiveness and customer service at the Polk School District. It is long, long past due.