Schools Look to Rebuild HR Department
LOWELL -- The school district doesn’t just need a Human Resources director.
With only one person -- an executive assistant -- still remaining in what was once a four-person department, the district is looking to rebuild the department “almost from scratch.”
The School Committee’s Personnel Subcommittee laid the groundwork for what this might look like Wednesday night, during a discussion of a proposed job description for director of human resources and a review of the department audit.
School Committee member and chair of the Personnel Subcommittee Connie Martin said the district should start by hiring a human resources director -- a position which has gone without a permanent person in the role since Anne Sheehy asked to be transferred back to the classroom about a year ago.
“My sense is our first step really needs to be this initial hire of the director and then maybe arming that person with the audit so they have the information, but then allowing that person to kind of chart the course for hiring or investigations into software,” she said.
President of Human Resources Services Inc. Sandy Stapczynski -- whose Andover-based company drafted an audit of the department -- agreed.
“I think you don’t have a choice,” she said, adding the district should also prioritize addressing any serious compliance issues.
The audit raised concerns regarding the department from cumbersome hiring practices to under-staffing to out-dated technology to little diversity in hiring.
Discussion on the specifics of hiring a new director surfaced two major questions Wednesday night: What type of experience should candidates have and how much they should be paid?
The latter is addressed in a draft of the job posting created by district administrators, which lists a salary between $95,000 and $115,000 for the director.
This is roughly on par with the $94,000 Sheehy, the previous permanent director, received. An unsuccessful attempt in 2017 by School Committee member Robert Hoey Jr. to bump the position up to an assistant superintendent would have come with a $130,000 salary.
Stapczynski said the district may need to rethink this compensation given the amount of responsibility someone in the director position will have to take on.
“I really think it’s going to be very hard to find someone at $95,000 nowadays,” she said.
After the meeting, she declined to offer a recommended range, but used $125,000 to $130,000 in an example during an explanation to members of the School Committee.
Hoey said he believed the district should adjust the compensation, possibly to $125,000.
“It’s hard to find superintendents that want to come here, because I think the problem is money,” he said. “I feel the same thing about the HR department.”
A draft of the job posting lists experience in one of the state’s public school districts as preferred, not required. In an earlier January meeting, Martin suggested looking outside the education field for candidates.
Stapczynski suggested someone with experience in municipal government, including schools, might be better as it would take about a year for someone with only a private-sector background to adjust. Her husband Buzz Stapczynski -- the former town manager of Andover who now works for his wife’s company -- said the district could cast the net more broadly to people with experience in state government and universities.
Martin said she believes someone with experience outside these areas may be able to bring the large-scale changes the School Committee is seeking for this position.
“I think municipal and school districts are set up by their very nature to be very structured,” she said.
The proposed job posting also includes multiple references to increasing diversity in the district and other issues raised by the audit. For example, one duty listed in the posting calls for developing and implementing a “long range” recruitment plan to attract more diverse candidates. Other duties describe establishing procedures, which the district currently lacks.
Members of the Personnel Subcommittee strongly supported the use of an outside agency to seek candidates for the director position over conducting the search using internal staff.
Though an earlier attempt by the district to seek bids to conduct this search returned no offers, a more recent request sent out to 11 search firms returned three responses.
One quoted an hourly rate, another offered to seek applicants for 25 percent of the applicant’s salary and the third offered a $14,000 flat fee. The School Committee has previously voted to budget $30,000 for this expense.
The final deadline for bid submission to the district is Friday. The School Committee is expected to review and possibly vote on these offers, as well as the job posting, at their meeting next Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in City Council chambers.
While hiring is underway, school administrators say central office staff - including Acting Superintendent Jeannine Durkin and Interim Chief Financial Officer Billie Jo Turner -- are cross-training to fill the current needs in the Human Resources department and establish safeguards against the loss of institutional knowledge, which happens when staff leaves.
This “team approach” places an emphasis on communication and means work can continue even if someone is out for the day, Turner said. Even after hiring new staff for the department, Durkin said she wants this type of cross-training to continue.
According to Turner, district administrators will present procedures they have already instituted in response to the audit at next week’s School Committee meeting.
Follow Elizabeth Dobbins on Twitter @ElizDobbins.