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School System Shuffle

MCS Board concerned about lack of Permanent staff in key positions.



After leaving Memphis City Schools in 2003, former associate superintendent of business operations Roland McElrath took a job at the Memphis Housing Authority. More recently, he was appointed finance director for the city of Memphis.

During that same period, MCS has been searching for McElrath's permanent replacement, and that troubles some members of the school board.

"There are critical positions which the board has expressed concern to the superintendent about, positions we would like to have filled by now," says school board president Wanda Halbert.

Seven divisions -- finance, procurement, internal auditing, transportation, nutrition services, communications, and operations -- are currently without permanent directors.

"There are key positions that are vacant, but we either have them filled with interim staff or are in the process of recruiting," says Michael Goar, associate superintendent for the district and the head of human resources.

"The main position that has been vacant for quite some time is the CFO, and there is great concern about that. We want to see the position filled," says Halbert.

After McElrath resigned, procurement director Ed Bumpus was named the interim head of business operations until his retirement in December 2004.

Suzanne Kelly, the superintendent's chief of staff, says the administration has conducted a lengthy search for a CFO.

"We have narrowed it down to two candidates. I'm hoping and I think [Superintendent Carol] Johnson is hoping she will have an offer prior to winter break."

Other jobs that are unfilled, argues Goar, have simply been merged with other positions. For example, Goar currently heads both human resources and operations, taking over the latter from Lavon Alston, who retired in June. Along with her chief of staff duties, Kelly also serves as head of communications.

MCS has interim staff managing the procurement, internal auditing, finance, and nutrition services departments.

"I don't think this is indicative of a problem," says Goar. "I think we are well under way to finding a right candidate for these positions. And I think we have very capable people working on an interim basis."

Halbert does not agree.

"I want to see the positions filled [on a permanent basis] so there can be more solid accountability," she says.

Goar argues that MCS is simply making their administration more efficient. Neither Goar nor Kelly received any salary increase with their additional responsibilities. "This is a way for us to streamline our administration," Goar says.

The system recently filled a vacancy in transportation, hiring Ronald Thornton. Less than a month later, Thornton decided to leave MCS and return to his position at Laidlaw.

"He had a better deal," says Goar. "Obviously, sometimes in the public sector, we cannot match the private sector."

School board member Sara Lewis had a different take on the situation. "I was just told this week that our salary schedules aren't competitive. I'm glad to know that because then it almost becomes the board's responsibility. How do we get out there and get competitive?"

Goar argues that the real story is the emphasis the district and superintendent have placed on filling academic positions.

"One of the things you should look at is the job human resources has been doing with teacher vacancies," he says. "Two years ago, when I came on, we had 70 vacancies at the start of the school year. This year we had zero vacancies as of July 1st." -- Ben Popper

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