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Great news! Layoffs 

Or is it?

If the Little Rock School District were a Fortune 500 company, its stockholders would be pretty happy right now. Cutting one-third of the managerial staff? Great news. The work will still get done — it always does. But this is government work, and large-scale job cuts are such an exception it’s hard to figure out just how people both inside and outside the district’s central office are going to feel about it. The two consultants who conducted the six-month-long study that culminated in last week’s recommendation to cut 100 central-office positions say even with the level of staffing the district would be left with, they’d still be the envy of other similar-sized school districts. “We knew by looking at the organizational structure they were very top heavy,” which is typical of large districts, said consultant Robert Klempen. Little Rock “won’t be lean” even with the cuts, he said. That’s welcome news for anyone who’s ever believed or complained that the district’s bureaucracy was out of control. But look past the big picture at whose jobs will actually be cut, and it becomes a little harder to call for the machete to start swinging. The district’s Volunteers in Public Schools program is so far the one that’s brought the most attention and comments, say both school board president Larry Berkley and the district’s spokeswoman, Suellen Vann. The VIPS department has six employees, and four would be cut under the reorganization plan: one who recruits and trains hundreds of mentors every year; one who works with teachers to set up educational field trips and recruits speakers for events like school career days; one who coordinates recruiting, training and recognizing volunteers; and a secretary who also oversees a lending library of resources for parents. VIPS director Debbie Milam would stay on, as would a parent involvement coordinator who’d work under a different supervisor. Milam said she’s not sure who would do the four employees’ jobs. Vann, who’s one of six members of an internal transition team that’s working on reassigning duties, said some of the VIPS employees’ responsibilities would be shifted to individual schools. But she also said the reorganization proposal isn’t final yet, and that Superintendent Roy Brooks and the transition team will be tweaking the plan based on input they get from inside and outside the district. Berkley said he supports the reorganization. “We need to make sure there is appropriate support in the new organization for VIPS,” Berkley said. “But it’ll be up to the superintendent to decide what that looks like.” It may also be hard for some people to take the reorganization plan seriously yet. It wouldn’t be unprecedented for the school board to approve something and then have it die a quiet death on an office shelf somewhere. And consultant Klempen said long-term follow-through is essential — not just to protect the job cuts from being chipped away at by people or groups intent on protecting a position here and a position there, but to change the culture of the district’s administration so that the bureaucracy doesn’t expand back out in five or 10 years. “This has been six months of anxiety, but it’s just maybe 10 percent of the work we have to do,” Klempen said.
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