• Emily Berry

Repeating myself: The district needs dedicated HR.

Updated: Feb 1, 2019

This post was first published on my original site Sept. 12, 2017.


Hey, did I mention the district needs a dedicated Human Resources manager? I mean, I get it, everyone loves to hate HR.  But there's enough evidence out there supporting my point that I am having trouble understanding why the board has yet to engage with this subject (at least publicly). I would be shocked if the investment did not pay for itself within a few years, and we have the money (more on that in a future post).

Maybe you've read my other two blog posts (here and here) on this topic but Tuesday night's board meeting gave yet more evidence that what we need is a senior staff member whose sole responsibility is to manage HR.  

The board heard from Business Manager Pat Miller and Curriculum Director Tim Joynt about personnel management results. Here's a link the report, which shows the policy and then whether the administration succeeded or not, noted with an "X."  Still with me? Under its governance model, the board sets expectations for results of its policies, and then administrators have to report back on whether they succeeded or failed, and why or why not. Then the board may or may not consider changes to its policy. For this year, where the district did not meet expectations, it would be totally reasonable to think that a dedicated HR manager could have absolutely been the difference.

Highlights that made me put "HR!!!" with exclamation marks in my notes:

1) Job descriptions haven't been updated. The language is outdated, so job postings don't include the best possible descriptions of positions.

2) Fewer than 40% of aides (non-licensed staff) received an evaluation last year, which the administration said was due to not having those evaluation criteria established and a process in place to conduct the reviews. That seems like exactly the type of thing HR managers loved to nag folks about -- at the giant corporation where I work, it feels like there's an office building full of people whose job it is to nag managers to fill out evaluations. 

3)  Patrick Miller actually said these words:  "To me the greatest red flag is that we have to get less turnover -- or find a way to get less turnover in our administrative staff." Mr. Miller sees the turnover figures -- he obviously knows that turnover in his own department is a problem, and understands how expensive it is to recruit new teachers, much less how damaging it can be to lose administrative staff.  His department has plenty of other work, including the full-time job of managing payroll, to do without HR. They should not have to take on the huge responsibility of attracting, maintaining, evaluating and managing benefits for our district employees. It's not a knock on him or his team - there's a reason companies have standalone HR departments once they get past a certain size.

4) We're still working to recruit teaching staff reflective of the racial and gender makeup of our students. HR professionals are trained to find creative ways to recruit the right candidates, hire and promote from within, and grow leaders. Hiring an HR professional would almost certainly speed our progress on this front, though- we are making baby steps.

5)  While the report has some helpful comparative data, Mr. Miller said it was incredibly difficult to find out what type of benefits are really considered "best," and also said it's hard to find out how our principals' salaries compare to their cohorts with similar levels of experience. You know who is great at keeping up with benefits best practices and comparative salary data? HR professionals.

 6) The board spent a long time discussing the district's board-employee communication policy, which has come before the board a few times. I've already said what I think about this. It's not wise for the board to give up their early warning system like this.. I still believe that, but the board appears convinced, despite some skepticism from Pablo Muirhead.

What's changed is that the Shorewood Education Association, our teacher's union, is working with the Superintendent's office to insert more detail on "chain of command" and communications with the board into the district's Employee Handbook. SEA President Amy Miller said she felt comfortable with the policy knowing that it would be more fully clarified in the handbook.

So, I see this through the lens of wanting to create checks and balances on the Superintendent, and I am not comfortable with any limits on staff members' ability to talk to board members. But thinking about this tonight, I realize this is also an employee-employer communications issue, and that could also benefit a great deal from someone trained to write and review employee policy...you know, like someone who specifically works in an HR capacity.

A final note for tonight -- I did speak during the public comment period regarding the Matt Jones case. I am researching some more about sexual harassment and assault in K-12 schools (quick way to feel hopeless about humanity) and I will have more to say on this. I'm hoping the district will take to heart what I said and what I hope other parents have communicated to the board in private conversations or messages. I hope they will do a better job letting students and staff know that we don't tolerate sexual harassment or assault. We should be clear that we are striving for an environment built around affirmative consent and absolutely clear boundaries between students and staff (hey, that reminds me, you know who is great at training staff about these kinds of sensitive issues? Three guesses.)

More soon! Thanks for reading.


© 2018 by Emily Berry

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Emily Berry

Shorewood, WI 53211

emily@berryschoolsblog.com