This article originally appeared in myPalmBeachPost.com.
Palm Beach County’s public school system decided Wednesday to spend more than a half-million dollars on a sweeping outside analysis of its finances and operations, an undertaking billed as a prelude to broad systemwide reforms.
In a 7-0 vote, school board members endorsed Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa’s proposal to let a nonprofit education consulting firm conduct the months-long, $570,000 study of the school district’s operations.
“I ask that the community open their hearts and their minds to thinking differently, because the status quo right now is not working,” Avossa told board members before the vote.
A grant may cover $50,000 of the cost. The rest, Avossa said, will be offset by savings created by a hiring freeze he put in place this summer at the district’s administrative headquarters. The company started a preliminary study of the district this summer.
Some teachers and residents raised questions about the study’s cost.
“Can’t we spend this directly on our students in the classroom and our teachers?” asked Karen Small Holme, a special-education advocate.
But board members endorsed it as an investment that could allow them to steer more money into classrooms and raise teacher salaries.
“It’s scary to make those kinds of commitments,” School Board Chairman Chuck Shaw said. “But I believe that this is such a critical step in our moving our system forward.”
Avossa credited Education Resource Strategies for pointing out ways he could direct more money to teacher raises during his time as a schools superintendent in Georgia.
The organization has done similar studies at school systems in several major cities, including Jacksonville, Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte and Cleveland. Its 2011 study in Jacksonville cost that school district $550,000.
The firm says that its work in other cities has led school boards there to reduce bureaucracy and costs, in some cases by closing schools and laying off teachers.
David Rosenberg, a partner at the company, told board members that its intent was to compare the school district’s resources and outcomes to those in other systems it has studied closely. Doing so, he said, could help to find inefficiencies and waste.
“We believe in systems,” he said. “We believe that system redesign is the key to success.”
Avossa said his nearly four months at the helm of the school district have showed him the need to refocus the maze of programs and departments financed by the school district’s $2 billion annual budget.
“We’ve got way too many systems that are working in isolation and in silos,” he said.