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    District Human Resources Transforms to Support Students Learning
    Posted on 12/09/2019
    District logo with yellow background and text "Seattle Public Schools"

    District Human Resources Transforms to Support Students Learning

    The district’s vision is that all Seattle Public Schools students graduate ready for college, career, and community. Realizing this commitment requires the focused efforts of all departments. In Spring of 2016, the SPS Human Resources division (HR) began a series of transformation efforts to move from an under-performing organization to one capable of supporting district goals, most specifically, ensuring a high-quality, culturally responsive teacher in every classroom on the first day of school and every day of school.

    Our Past

    Historically, HR was characterized as overly bureaucratic, siloed, low morale, disjointed, and used paper-driven business processes and antiquated technology. Many did not consider the department an enabling function of the district, necessary for supporting the district’s most significant resource – our staff and, ultimately, the education of 53,000 students.

    Human Resources Transformation

    For the past three years, HR’s transformation efforts have been focused in three areas: strategy, operations, and compliance.

    The first year of this effort was focused on the business process and technologies which prevented HR from delivering services to schools and staff in a timely, high-quality manner. The leadership in HR outlined a multi-year effort designed to focus on the largest pain points which were causing challenges to quality operations. This intentional focus centered on ensuring there was a high-quality teacher in every classroom on the first day of school.

    In 2016, 14% of classrooms vacancies were not filled (92 positions) on the first day of school. In the 2019-20 school year, only 5% of classroom vacancies (30 positions) were not filled, resulting in 99.9% of classrooms having a teacher on the first day. Additionally, 2017 data showed that classroom vacancies on the first day of school were disproportionately located in Title I schools. For example, though Title I schools made up only 31% of schools in the district, they accounted for 41% of first-day vacancies. With this information, Human Resources went to SEA to request that these schools be allowed to hire earlier in the CBA hiring timeline, which resulted in a significant reduction of this trend. In each of the last two years since the change, Title I schools have had only 25% of the first-day-of-school vacancies.

    Other technological and process improvements in years two and three of the transformation included online onboarding and automation of staffing processes. As a result, every new hire can complete new hire paperwork online and instantly be staffed and given access to email and other systems, such as PowerSchool, with the click of a button.

    Additionally, these improvements have led to 100% of new teachers being placed in their appropriate salary lane and step by the first payroll run in October, compared to previous years where new teachers weren’t provided accurate placements until November or December.

    With over 8000 employees, and 13 Collective Bargaining Agreements, labor and employee relations are a major focus of the Human Resources Division. The Labor and Employee Relations Department (LER), within the HR division, is responsible for managing the district’s relationships with employees, negotiating and administering the Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBA), conducting employee misconduct investigations, facilitating contract grievance procedures, and working with supervisors to implement appropriate discipline when employees violate laws, policies, or procedures. The LER department was historically characterized by high levels of staff turnover, negatively impacting the function of the team, staff, and students, including a two-year backlog of employee investigations.

    As part of the HR transformation efforts, in 2018 the HR chief commissioned an audit to be performed by Moss Adams to evaluate the structure, function, capacity, and role of the Labor and Employee Relations department. Moss Adams reviewed current processes in place for all complaints and investigations, analyzed policies and procedures, along with structures and systems, and outlined 22 areas for improvement.

    As a response to this audit, HR leadership developed a multi-year plan to address all 22 recommendations and restructured the LER Department. Two positions were created to provide oversight of the LER Department. One position is focused on the traditional labor relations functions and the other focuses on day-to-day operations, process improvement, and performance management. Additionally, a decision was made in April 2019 to combine the investigators from Human Resources with the investigators from the Office of Student Civil Rights and create an investigations unit where all five investigators are trained to address the complaint resolution process for both employees and for student HIB/Title IX complaints.

    The reorganization of LER and the investigations unit provides the necessary oversight of the investigation process and has led to increased consistency and improved timeliness of investigations. To date, there is no employee misconduct case that is older than seven months, a substantial improvement from the past.

    The complaint process has also been redesigned in response to the audit recommendations. Previously, many allegations of misconduct were investigated at the school level.

    In the last year, processes have been streamlined to ensure a more consistent handling of cases, including central oversight of more severe employee misconduct allegations and a cross-departmental review of those allegations. Currently, a leadership group from the LER department, investigations department, and legal department work together to develop and standardize the workflow and deliverables for each phase of the complaint process. This new coordinated approach has resulted in more comprehensive investigations and the ability to swiftly address misconduct if there is sufficient evidence.

    Understandably, there is a lot of public interest regarding the processes for reporting employee misconduct, investigation processes, and how decisions are made regarding appropriate levels of employee discipline. In response, we have created a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) that provides the level of detail necessary for understanding the full scope and responsibility of the SPS HR department’s approach and response to employee misconduct. 

    Our Commitment; Our Students

    There is nobody more interested in creating a safe and welcoming environment in our schools than we are. The emotional and physical wellbeing and safety of our students is our highest priority. In the past three years, HR has engaged senior leaders and union partners to create a higher standard of professionalism, performance, and conduct of our staff. We have a shared interest in supporting staff in doing their jobs well and exiting employees who do not have the skills or dispositions to create a safe and welcoming environment for each and every one of our students.

    We will continue to work with our labor partners and the state to make sure our policies, practices, and state legislation prioritizes the wellbeing of our students. We too are frustrated when we cannot do more to exit ineffective and damaging employees. Our students deserve the very best, and the Human Resources Department is committed to doing our part.