Human resources is a vital function of public education that remains largely hidden from public view. This week's audit of HR in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools confirms what a lot of employees and applicants have been saying: The system designed to get top teachers and administrators into crucial jobs hasn't been working for a long time.
"The HR Department has been struggling for a number of years -- most speak frankly in the system about HR's functionality as disappointing and counter-productive to the reform effort the rest of the system is experiencing," consultant Elizabeth Arons of the Urban Schools Human Capital Academy concluded after interviewing about 50 CMS employees and community members.
A lot of rules and regulations come with the turf -- remember, CMS depends on state, federal and county governments for its money -- but Superintendent Heath Morrison says much of the "compliance culture" that has dragged the department down is based not on legal constraints but on tradition and systems that make supervisors' lives easier at the cost of the people they're supposed to be helping.
"We're going to be looking at every opportunity to remove barriers," he said at a Wednesday news conference.
One school of thought holds that the best way to bust government bureaucracy is to bring in people from private industry. The last two CMS HR chiefs took that route: Mo Ambler had worked for Blockbuster, Cox Communications and Pepsico, and Daniel Habrat came from Wachovia. Both left under unfavorable circumstances. Former Superintendent Peter Gorman declined to renew Ambler's contract in 2010, and Habrat resigned just before the highly critical report on his department was released.
Morrison says it's too simplistic to conclude that outsiders can't do the job. He said he expects Gwaltney to create a leadership team that taps the strengths of education and private industry.
Some of the recommendations she'll be working with make obvious sense, even to a layperson like me. For instance: "Immediately redesign the applicant process so that a one-time online application makes the applicant available for all positions. ... There is a strong perception throughout the district that applicants have to 'jump through hoops' and that HR 'does not take good care of applicants.' " Yep. I've heard that many times.
Many of the others are focused on processes and procedures that are no doubt important, but not as obvious to folks outside the system. I'll be eager to hear from those of you inside CMS about how the coming changes play out. The fate of a whole lot of children and families rides on this.
I suspect a lot of you, like me, are working your way through more than 150 pages of reports released Tuesday (read the communications report here, the organizational review here and the results of the employee survey here). Pass along your thoughts and questions. There's a lot of change ahead for CMS, and these reports are an early road map.