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TMCNet:  CMS studies cite HR failures, poor communication

[November 13, 2012]

CMS studies cite HR failures, poor communication

Nov 13, 2012 (The Charlotte Observer - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools employees lack confidence in the district's human resources department, while many inside and outside the district say poor communication leads to a barrage of negative news coverage, according to studies being presented to the school board Tuesday.


Heath Morrison, who became superintendent in July, commissioned internal studies and an employee morale survey to help him shape his plans for CMS.

Elizabeth Arons, the consultant who studied human resources, said shortcomings in that department make it hard to get good teachers into classrooms when they are needed. Arons interviewed about 50 administrators and other staff who deal with the department.

"We heard stories of principals putting in a requisition for a new hire that would take weeks, even months, before actions were finalized," she wrote.

With more than 18,000 employees, CMS is one of the largest employers in the Charlotte region. The education of about 141,000 children and a $1.2 billion budget hangs on the work of those employees.

Chief HR Officer Daniel Habrat was brought in from Wachovia in 2011 and charged with improving the system.

"Almost all of those interviewed outside of HR expressed a lack of confidence in the leadership of the department and the fact that things had not gotten better over the last 18 months, and in some instances, had gotten worse," the report says.

The department got credit for one of its toughest assignments: Handling layoffs. And many employees gave the department credit for having hard workers with good intentions. But the report calls for major changes in the recruitment and preparation of teachers, with the focus shifting from regulatory compliance to aggressive recruitment of talented candidates.

Morrison also hired Drive West Communications to study the CMS communications department. Chairman Terry Abbott noted that CMS has a better reputation nationally than locally.

"In various communities inside its borders, CMS suffers from a deep level distrust of its work," that report says. "CMS employees and community supporters know the district enjoys a generally favorable reputation among education media throughout the country, but they agree almost universally that local media coverage of the school district is very negative." Among the issues cited: A communications staff hit by budget cuts and a failure to communicate well about "major district wide initiatives." The report says some of the problems come from the failure of other departments to share information with the communications team and CMS employees. Morrison, who spoke about the report before the meeting, said the rollout of the CMS "bring your own technology" project emerged as an example of the problems, with many schools learning about the effort from the news media. After the announcement, there was confusion about costs and timetables.

"We generated a big idea and went flying out of the gate, and the last people to hear were our employees," Morrison said.

Abbott's report also noted that CMS was slow to produce data and analysis about results of 2012 state exams.

The study recommends appointing a new chief communications officer -- a higher-level post than the executive director job now held by LaTarzja Henry -- and calls for CMS to "reorganize and appropriately staff" the department. It also calls for CMS to boost its social media presence, relaunch its cable TV station and "significantly increase its production of news and information for the public, especially about issues of district wide importance, including the work of the school board." Morrison and the board will discuss the studies at Tuesday's meeting, which starts at 6 p.m. They'll also review an employee morale survey, which was completed by 53 percent of the 17,422 employees invited to participate. The low participation level may indicate low staff engagement levels, the summary notes.

Kathryn Block, an administrator who worked with the survey, said the employees were more positive about their own schools and departments than the district overall. The survey indicates employees want better communication, feedback and recognition, she said.

Many have voiced appreciation that Morrison is doing the survey, which about 200 employees helped design, she said.

"With Heath's leadership, I think we are starting to turn the corner," she said.

Helms: 704-358-5033 ___ (c)2012 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.) Visit The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.) at www.charlotteobserver.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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