Alberto Carvalho, Miami Dade schools

Upset with process, Miami School Board narrowly approves ‘organizational realignment’

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Miami Herald | by Colleen Wright | January 25, 2021

The Miami-Dade County School Board and top school district staff spent five hours Monday mired in an organizational realignment that added more tension to an already brewing power struggle.

Board members took more of an issue with the timing and process of Superintendent Alberto Carvalho’s sweeping proposal than with the reorganization itself. At times, the discussion became personal.

“I take immense pride in it. Maybe that’s one of the vulnerabilities,” Carvalho said. “I think that even a plucked eagle may fly no better than a turkey and some will call it a chicken.”

The departures and retirements of several senior staffers led Carvalho to propose an “organizational realignment.” The unveiling of that proposal was set to be discussed at the Jan. 13 board meeting but was withdrawn and scheduled for a special board meeting Jan. 20 that was postponed to Monday.

Board members arrived upset after they only had the weekend to look over 63 pages of job descriptions. Board chair Perla Tabares Hantman had asked Carvalho to create and share organizational charts with the board. Additionally, board members weren’t briefed by district officials on the reorganization, which is customary before School Board meetings.

They came with questions about how the district summed up that it would save $687,531 with the new realignment. They wondered why certain administrative jobs that didn’t require a master’s degree were in the highest pay grade of $114,945 to $174,000 while the most experienced teachers with doctorate degrees make a maximum $80,000. They worried that job descriptions were written for specific employees whose jobs had changed under the realignment.

Other questions included why one administrator reported to another in the same pay grade and why some administrators had “dotted” reporting lines that reported directly to Carvalho.

“You have some inequities built into the system when you have some chief officers with a tremendous amount of responsibilities and staff compared to others with limited responsibilities and limited staff,” said board member Mari Tere Rojas.

Vice chair Steve Gallon pointed out that the board had the authority over personnel, even if it was unprecedented for the board to amend such a proposal.

SUPERINTENDENT’S FRUSTRATION

At one point, a frustrated Carvalho said he would withdraw the proposal and bring it back for the Feb. 10 board meeting.

“We’ve gone through worse things,” he said. “I know what devastation is like. This is not it.”

Veteran board member Marta Perez came to Carvalho’s defense, lamenting hours-long meetings that are drawn out by repetitive board members.

“There have been other things that have been said today that are a little hurtful by other board members,” she said. “I think we should lean in as a board and help the superintendent in the common mission that we all have.”

The board was ultra sensitive to the optics of “rubber stamping” the reorganization. The board voted 6-3 to break up the sweeping proposal and consider each of the eight parts individually.

“I don’t see the ability to bifurcate this item as a disrespect to the work that’s being done,” said new board member Christi Fraga, “but rather for us to fully support you in the ability to say the decision we made was the right one.”

Seven of the eight proposals ended up passing unanimously with the exception being the recommendation that established and classified new administrative roles. That narrowly passed with a 5-4 vote as Hantman, Gallon, Rojas and Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall voted no.

Hantman addressed the “animosity” that had permeated the board chamber for several hours and that the district has been “spoiled” because board members do not have to do as they are told.

“Times change, things change, the board changes and situations are different,” Hantman said. “I am not going to rubber stamp something that I don’t believe in.”

She also blasted district staff who texted her during the meeting asking her to not vote against the reorganization.

“I really take exception and offense when I receive messages of what I should do or not do,” Hantman said. “That’s not the way we operate.”

THERE’S STILL FALLOUT FROM TECH TROUBLE

The reorganization was heavy on Information Technology Services, a department that got much attention after software issues and an alleged hacking by a teenager brought the district’s school year debut to a halt. That overhaul included the Chief Information Officer reporting directly to Carvalho and a 10% salary increaseto retain workers in that department.

Board members did not discuss how administrators who were either directly responsible or played a role in the software woes or disastrous rollout of the K12 online learning platform were due for a pay raise or promotion. Carvalho said an internal review involving two entities — he wouldn’t say which — was still going through “every single step of the process.”

“I believe at the end of the day it will show what was done internally was done to the best of intentions,” he said. “The failure was in the over-promise and under-delivery on the part of [K12].”

Marie Izquierdo, the district’s chief academic officer who was responsible for choosing K12 and whose duties also included Information Technology Services, is being moved laterally as Chief Strategy Officer, a position that has been vacant for almost three years.

Izquierdo will be replaced by Sylvia Diaz, who also helped choose K12. Diaz is up for a 10% raise and is now in the district’s highest pay grade.

North Region Superintendent Jose Bueno was promoted as Carvalho’s chief of staff. Central Region Superintendent John Pace is now the chief operating officer over school operations.

Pace’s mother is former region superintendent Essie Pace and his uncle is former School Board member Solomon Stinson. Pace also received a 10% raise and is now in the highest pay grade.

Longtime administrator Iraida Mendez Cartaya’s job of intergovernmental affairs and community engagement was split among two administrators. Chief Compliance Officer Tabitha Fazzino is now also the chief over intergovernmental affairs as Chief Communications Officer Daisy Gonzalez-Diego adds community engagement to her duties.

Margarita Betancourt was promoted as the district’s new treasurer. She also received a 10% raise and is in the highest pay grade.

Bueno, Diaz, Fazzino, Gonzalez-Diego, Pace and Schools Police Chief Edwin Lopez are all now in the district’s highest pay grade.

A special milestone was also celebrated Monday: Michael A. Lewis was promoted to lead the Central Region Office, becoming the district’s first Haitian-American region superintendent.

Photo: Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho speaks at a press conference on Sept. 3, 2020, about cyberattacks against the school system during its first week of virtual classes in the new school year. AL DIAZ EL NUEVO HERALD