Changes are coming for 31 high-ranking Alabama department of education employees, state interim Superintendent Dr. Ed Richardson told board of education members at Thursday’s work session in Montgomery.
Richardson said reducing the number of those employees, known as “exempt” or “at-will” employees, is necessary as the department has been criticized by lawmakers and others for bureaucratic bloat, and he is prepared to do what it takes to get the number of at-will employees to a reasonable number.
“I cannot solve the issue of titles, positions, salaries without making some hard decisions,” Richardson said. “And I intend to do it.”
Richardson said state lawmakers were preparing to cut the department’s budget because of what they saw as unnecessary spending on high-ranking personnel. Those cuts could have negatively impacted statewide instructional programs, he said.
Richardson and others started work on the reorganization since last October. A consultant hired by the Alabama Personnel Department conducted a study to look at job tasks, titles, and salaries, he said.
Along with cutting top employees, the areas within the department will be realigned, he said.
The overall goal, Richardson said, “Is to organize this department so that it has fewer moving parts and will be able to function better, communicate better and more efficiently,” he said.
To right the ship, Richardson first recommended board members rescind a 2015 resolution giving the state superintendent full authority to hire at-will employees. Richardson said the resolution violates state law which requires the board to approve all hires by the state superintendent.
The board adopted that resolution at former Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice’s recommendation, Richardson said, and that’s where the problem started.
That resolution gave Bice and all future superintendents the ability to hire people as deputy superintendent, assistant superintendent, directors, and coordinators without board approval.
“It left the door wide open both in terms of number and salary of individuals [who were hired],” Richardson said.
A document obtained by AL.com last September showed 37 at-will employees working under Sentance, while there had been 41 under Bice. AL.com has not yet received a response to a request for an updated list.
Richardson pointed out that not only does the law require board approval for the initial hire of at-will employees, it also states that employment of at-will employees ends when the superintendent leaves office.
That part of the law has not been observed in the past, he said, but needs to be considered as a new superintendent will be seated by April.
The current organizational chart has the department divided into four major divisions, with a Deputy Superintendent heading each area. The proposed chart divides the department into two divisions, instruction and administration, and reduces the number of Deputy Superintendents to two.
Richardson said he will meet with all at-will employees as a group tomorrow to discuss the reorganization and then he “will meet individually with the 31 individuals to explain what the options are.”
“It has to be done now,” Richardson said. “That way the next superintendent doesn’t have to do this.”
Alabama State Department of Education proposed reorganization – March 8, 2018 by Trisha Powell Crain on Scribd