A former Ohio bank executive turned school reform leader who was
supposed to set strategy for CPS’ struggling high schools was laid off
in the latest round of cuts, less than five months after the Board of
Education approved her $154,000 contract.

A former Ohio bank executive turned school reform leader who was supposed to set strategy for CPS’ struggling high schools was laid off in the latest round of cuts, less than five months after the Board of Education approved her $154,000 contract.

Leigh McGuigan had come to Chicago after abruptly announcing her resignation as Cleveland’s innovation chief.

CPS officials decided that they could do without the position of high school strategist and let her go, says Alicia Winckler, chief of human capital. Much of the larger thinking about high schools will fall to the chief area officers in charge of them.

This is one of the under-the-radar changes made by CEO Ron Huberman. Huberman has now been in his post for more than a year, but has yet to post an official organization chart, although spokesperson Monique Bond says that the budget crisis and the layoffs forced by it have resulted in a fluid organization.

But information released by CPS on Friday about who was laid off, which positions were closed and who remains in place over the last year paints a picture of what central office looks like under Huberman. Since February of 2009, the number of central office employees has declined by 12 percent, from more than 1,600 employees to about 1,400. The number of citywide staff, such as area office staff and special education resource teachers, has shrunk by 4.5 percent; about 8,100 remain.

Huberman has made layoffs and closed positions in a staggered fashion: More than 500 people and positions last summer, then 60 more mid-year and then another 300 in late March. He promises to make 200 more before the end of the fiscal year.

To some degree, Huberman is assessing what is happening with each round and trying to figure out where more cuts are appropriate and where the staff is necessary, Bond says.

The last round of cuts did away with the director of the Office of Arts Education and its grants manager, as well as the senior managers in the offices of math, science, external affairs and specialized services. These departments, however, are still staffed and those workers now report to new people, Winckler says.

Huberman hasn’t only laid off workers. All together, he has made 405 hires, 128 of them in central office.

One of the key new people is Eileen Rudden, who spent most of her career in the software industry and now is charged with trying to whip the Office of Specialized Services into shape. In January, the board approved a $151,000 contract for Rudden.

“She is skilled in operations,” Winkler says. “She specializes in process management, efficiencies and customer service.”

The head of specialized services, Deborah Duskey, is still in her position, despite some media reports that she was let go, Winkler says.

While Huberman has eliminated many deputies and managers, as well as lunchroom attendants and engineers, it appears that he has more people who report to him than did Arne Duncan.

Duncan had chiefs of staff, education and administration. He also had the directors of four departments, including high schools and new schools, reporting to him.

Huberman, however, has a chief of staff, education, administration, performance, human capital, operations, finance, external partnerships and safety and security. The director of the office of new schools and intergovernmental affairs also answer directly to Huberman.

It sounds as though the central office restructuring is in line with the philosophies being pushed at the University of Chicago’s Booth School, says Damon Phillips, a professor at the school. As everyone knows, Huberman has an MBA from Booth.

The current thinking of MBAs is to have many direct reports. This is seen as a less bureaucratic and less layered approach to setting up a business.

“The idea is that if you as a leader are going to be held accountable, you should know what is going on,” Phillips says. “You are surprised by fewer things.” Such a structure could also be a sign of micromanagement, though.

Phillips says this approach might have been attractive to Huberman, who doesn’t have a background in education.

It also is in line with a leader who is downsizing central administration—something that Phillips agrees an MBA like Huberman might have wanted to do, budget crisis or not. The leader is always asking, “Is there a clear benefit of having the person in central office?” Phillips notes.

A business leader would turn to data to answer that question, Phillips says. But Phillips, like many, is not so sure that these business tactics will work well in education. “I worry about the over-reliance on data,” he says. “I don’t know if it will work in education. It is an experiment.” 

Sarah is the deputy editor of Catalyst Chicago.

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