Thursday, July 7, 2011

Purge at DOE concerns education leaders

News that Superintendent Mick Zais has initiated a purge of staff members at the Department of Education has left state education leaders concerned about the loss of programs and services, not to mention the loss of more jobs.

Superintendent of Education Mick Zais, the first Republican to hold the post since 1998, is evaluating and overhauling the department and consolidating two of its five divisions.
Those 50 employees represent nearly 13 percent of the agency's non-transportation employees. Their jobs ranged from administrative assistants to office directors to deputy superintendents.

Zais has not released "a breakdown of employee positions by division." But word is circulating, naturally. Each "voluntary resignation or retirement" represents an educator without a job.

"We're very concerned that personnel in the Office of School Safety are gone," said Molly Spearman, director of the S.C. Association of School Administrators. "That affects mentoring, character education, bullying prevention, federal rules to make sure homeless students are being taken care of."

Ragley said the functions of the department will not be impacted by the cuts.

"The work is still going to get done," he said. "The responsibilities have been added on to other people's jobs."

That's a long-revered strategy among overseers of labor in South Carolina, one called "the stretchout." Cut your workforce as a cost-saving measure AND as an intimidation tool against those left with jobs: Do the extra work, or you'll be cut in the next go-round.

It's why we'll likely not hear anyone still employed at the Department complaining of their predicament. No doubt this round of cuts has put a chill on any dissent there may have been. No doubt, too, that Zais has eyes and ears on every floor of the Rutledge Building.

Those outside the building aren't afraid to speak up, however.

Debbie Elmore, spokeswoman for the S.C. School Boards Association, said her organization wished the department had done a better job of communicating news of the changes to school districts.

"It's not unexpected for personnel and other changes to occur anytime there is a change in leadership," Elmore said. "However, what has been disappointing is the department's lack of transparency and communication about the state superintendent's ongoing restructuring plan, personnel changes, and more importantly, how they may or may not impact support services to districts and schools."

The South Carolina Constitution guarantees that the state will provide a system of public education to all the state's children.

This is what happens when apathy and ignorance on Election Day installs at the helm of that system someone without experience in South Carolina's public school classrooms, who has never supported public schools and who actively works to dismantle the programs and services they provide to children.

And we're only seven months into his four-year term of office. If Zais can inflict this much damage in seven months, will there be a system left when his term ends?

Is that his goal?

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