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Schools trimming staff at regional officets

With the opening of schools just over a month away, some Philadelphia School District employees are worried that a major restructuring of regional offices could result in more layoffs.

With the opening of schools just over a month away, some Philadelphia School District employees are worried that a major restructuring of regional offices could result in more layoffs.

But Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman said yesterday that layoffs are unlikely.

She said staffers whose positions are eliminated from regional offices may apply for other jobs at the district's headquarters or within the schools.

The restructuring will boost the number of regional offices to 11 next school year. There were eight last year.

But each of the 11 regional offices will see a drop in staffing from 17 last year to just seven this year.

The goal of increasing the number of regional offices is to allow each to give more attention, instructional guidance and resources to a smaller number of schools within each region.

Ackerman said she began looking at the regional system soon after arriving here in June and determined: "There's a bureaucratic problem here."

"The primary role of the regional offices is not to track down compliance issues, but to support the principals and teachers and the process of education for our young people," she told the Daily News.

"I want teachers and principals to know that they [the regional superintendents] are there to support them, and that they understand what good instruction looks like," she said.

"They will help the schools, the teachers and principals get the instructional programs and resources they need to improve student achievement."

The positions being cut from the regions include: No Child Left Behind specialist; case manager for special education; director of instructional support; growth specialist for English-language learning, and disciplinary-and-truancy liaison, Ackerman said.

But people who performed those jobs may work out of the district's headquarters to improve consistency throughout the district, she said.

The seven staffers left to work in the regional offices will be the regional superintendent, assistant superintendent, two secretaries, a regional business specialist, a supervisor of facilities, and - for the first time - a parent ombudsman, to help parents.

Yet, each regional office will also have a four-member "rapid-response team," operating as a sort of "SWAT team," to visit the schools in the region, spending as much as 10 days at a time, helping with instructional and other support, district spokesman Fernando Gallard said.

He added that Ackerman has created a central-office support team for all the regional offices to ensure that all No Child Left Behind guidelines and other state or federal rules are followed systemwide. Also, the central-office support team will monitor disciplinary and truancy guidelines in each region.

"If you have someone enforcing truancy and discipline in one of the regions, and you have someone else in the district and they're not talking to each other, that makes it difficult [to have coherent policies]," Gallard said.

Aissia Richardson, a parent spokeswoman for Parents United for Public Schools, said she was "delighted" about the new parent ombudsman job in each region.

"This is something we've been asking for," Richardson said yesterday, adding that parents would like to see a parent ombudsman in every school. "Parents need to have a go-to person to be able to navigate the system."

Ackerman said cutting the staff in regional offices provides for a clearer "line of accountability" for adults in a system charged with improving student achievement.

"If something doesn't get done, I will hold that person accountable," she said.

The 11 new offices will include nine regional offices, an office for high schools and one for disciplinary schools. *