Field Trip: Mastering the Art of Managing Positions
“Position management” may not win the award for Most Exciting Phrase anytime soon, but it’s a vital concept in education — and has a real impact on employees. In this episode of Field Trip, we delve into the importance and mechanisms of position management (and position vacancies) in school districts. Dr. Sundie Dahlkamp, the Executive Director of Human Resource Services at Pearland Independent School District, and Frontline Education’s Mitch Welch explore the concept of position management and control, focusing on creativity, flexibility, effective communication, and strategic decision-making, all while ensuring accountability on the expenditure.
The conversation highlights the necessity of balancing management and control in human resources and the role of technology in facilitating effective communication and information visibility. Mitch and Sundie also tackle:
- Financial accountability and why position management is crucial for school districts to justify expenditures, especially when such a high percentage of the budget is allocated to employee salaries.
- Strategic forecasting in HR and why the ability to project future needs based on enrollment trends is vital for sustainable school district management.
- The balance between the central office and building administrators. There’s a delicate balance to maintain between position control at the central office level and creative management by individual supervisors and principals.
00:00 – Introduction
01:09 – Defining Position Management and Control
04:53 – The Importance of Effective Dating System
07:31 – Balancing Management and Control
08:55 – Using Technology for Communication
10:00 – Conclusion and Preview of Next Episode
10:23 – Closing
- Blog: Effective Dating & Conditional Workflows in Position Management
- Infographic: Position Management & Control in School Districts
- eBook: Position Management Playbook for School Districts
- Case Study: A Better HR System to Serve Employees: Why Whitehall-Coplay School District uses Frontline to manage recruiting and hiring, onboarding, employee records, benefits, position management, professional learning, employee absences, and time tracking.
DR. SUNDIE DAHLKAMP: In K-12 education we have so much accountability to so many other people on how we spend our dollars. Without position control, we would not be able to back up what we spend. But when it comes to the management of the position and how it’s used and how creative a supervisor can get to squeeze every single last ounce of whatever out of that position, whether it’s an aide, a teacher, a bus driver, a custodian, that management comes from that supervisor and their ability to be creative and think outside the box.
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RYAN ESTES: Hello and welcome to the Field Trip podcast from Frontline Education! I’m Ryan Estes, and this is our second episode in a short series about what we’re calling “Workforce Oversight” — really, systems and processes for working with personnel in school districts. Today we’re talking about position management, and specifically position vacancies.
Like last time, I am joined by Mitch Welch, my colleague here at Frontline, and by Dr. Sundie Dahlkamp, Executive Director of Human Resource Services at Pearland Independent School District. Mitch and Sundie, once again, welcome.
MITCH WELCH: Thanks for having us.
SUNDIE: Here we go.
RYAN: Now for the lay person, and to be clear, that’s me, let’s define some terms. When we say position management, what exactly are we talking about?
MITCH: Thanks, Ryan. I think this is a really good foundational topic that we’re having to start with when we’re starting to manage people. Personally, I was a school principal for a long time and I was in a very, I called it a position control environment. Anytime I had data, it was tied to how they were paid: compensation, how many things, how many positions I had allocated on my building, how many positions I could create or not create, it was tied to pay. And we’ve now come into this place and relationship with people like Sundie, I’m like, ” Hey, we have to manage these positions as well as pay them well.”
So I’m going to pass it to Sundie. How would you define position control from your seat as an HR director?
SUNDIE: Okay, so I have to define them together. Position management and position control, I have to define them together. I love using analogies, so for all of my tech nerds out there, position management is, your software development. How creative can you get? Position control is your boxes and wires, right? Like, it’s the nuts and bolts. The control is the yeses and the nos. Are we going to pay them? Yes or no? How much? Yes or no? Are we going to allow the position to exist? Yes or no?
Position management is your utilization. Are you using it to the best of your abilities? Going back to you speaking about a principal, my high school principals in my district are hands down some of the best position managers that I have, because I allocate X amount of positions to a high school of 3,400 students, and that principal is able to turn water into wine every year.
Position control happens at the central office level. My department controls the ins and outs, the yeses, the noss, the federal or not, or local or not. And that’s the control mechanism. That’s HR’s relationship with the business office. That’s HR’s relationship with special programs. That’s where staffing allocations come from, that control piece. And it sounds very, “I’m the man,” right? But, that’s not really what it’s for. In K-12 education, we have so much accountability to so many other people on how we spend our dollars. Without position control, we would not be able to back up what we spend.
In my district, 84% of my budget is human resources. 84% of millions of dollars is Human Resources, and I have to be able to justify every single dollar I spend. But when it comes to the management of the position and how it’s used, and how creative a supervisor can get to squeeze every single last ounce of whatever out of that position, whether it’s an aide, a teacher, a bus driver, a custodian, that management comes from that supervisor and their ability to be creative and think outside the box.
MITCH: And this is where in working with HR departments, especially across Texas, being homegrown here in the state, getting creative to balance my allocation. Some people might be split position or split FTE or might do this position for this many hours a day compared to this position this many hours a day. I might share a person with the campus to make sure we balance. It caused a lot of issues with, oh my goodness, we didn’t have an what I called an effective dating system to get visibility of when that movement needed to take place based on a lot of circumstances which we’ll talk in a future podcast on that movement.
But effective dates go into and pair with position management, in my view. So if I said, why is it so important and what is the leverage that you have of saying the dating is so important that it’s communicated across our district, because if we can plan ahead and not be reactive or see things coming that are happening in time, and we have a communicated effective dating system that says, I know in February, on the second week of February coming up, I have a picture of vacancies that are going to occur because of request and the position movement we’ve had and the management of those with good documentation, good requests, good workflows, good notifications that this is happening, explain to me how you’ve taken and managing positions and the importance of the dating and people all on board with using an effective dating system.
SUNDIE: I think you have to have amazing amounts of communication and conversations on multiple levels to be able to pull the trigger on something in a future date. We’re right now in the very early stages of projecting staff for the upcoming school year. I can’t just use enrollment numbers, right? Because enrollment is, oh yeah, you’re going to have 20,000 students and 23 schools go figure it out. No, you have to look at historically, how many kids typically move to the city? How many kids move out?
A trend that has been happening in our district for a while is we are graduating way more seniors than our incoming kindergartners, which tells me over time we will have a smaller school district. Period. There’s no other way to do it, because kindergartners grow up to be seniors, and if I start with less kindergartners, one day I will have less seniors.
But you have to be able to see that coming, to be able to make those future decisions. And so, especially with regard to our special programs population, if I have a kiddo that I know is moving into the district, they have to be ARDed in months in advance, right? They have to come to us with all kinds of paperwork and meetings. Well, if I know there’s going to be a staffing unit that is going to have to be there on day one, when that kid walks in the door, I have to be able to go to a principal at another campus and say, “Hey, as position control, I’m going to move your position as the position manager. You need to figure out how to fill that gap on your campus because I’m taking the human and I’m walking them across town.” And I think that’s where some of your conversations have to come into play so that control piece and that management piece are able to partner along the way.
MITCH: And I think you said something very key here that keeps triggering things. This is emotional a little bit in relationships in your district, because typically, what I think of when I’m working with people today, control sits in the business office. Management is a result of how it’s being controlled on a lot of districts. And I feel like in your district, it’s a pretty healthy relationship between Business and HR, where you said the relationship’s there, there’s not really a gap. There’s a buy-in to a process on both seats that my management is coinciding with your control and we’re not battling each other. And I don’t know if a lot of districts can say that. Some people have a battle and there’s a reaction because they didn’t know. Or a principal moves someone and they didn’t get told and they’re paid wrong. Or I put someone in a position that I wasn’t allocated for. All of a sudden we’re going at our position list and we’re doing assignment reviews, and we’re like, why is that person sitting there? You didn’t tell us you did it. And so I think that’s the importance of really starting a conversation across a wider spectrum of we do need to balance management a little bit more and educate management of positions differently. So we talk differently internally, and if there is a gap, we bridge it. And if we bring people to the table, we hash through it and we look at processes so that control and management don’t cancel each other, but support each other.
SUNDIE: Well, you also have to give avenues for that conversation to take place. If those conversations are only happening at the central office level, then you’re never going to get told by a high school principal or an elementary principal that a cafeteria worker changed positions. So you have to give them an avenue, an outlet. In our particular district, we use technology. We use electronic programs and software and servicing to make sure that if you make any change in the management of your position, you have green light pathway to tell us about it. When it gets to us on the control side, we’ll let you know yes or no. But you absolutely have an open line of communication to tell us about your management all day, every day. And I think that makes a difference. I mean, if a principal, every time they wanted to make a management decision, had to call my office and ask permission before they did it, I’m not letting them be a principal. They’re just one of my employees at that point. But I’m letting them make a decision. I’m evaluating the decision on the other end, and then I’m giving them feedback that’s totally different. The level of buy-in is completely separate.
RYAN: That is about all the time we have for today, and I don’t think that I would ever have been sorry to see the end of a conversation about position management, but here we are. This is good stuff. Next time we are going to be talking about position modifications in school districts. So be sure to hit that subscribe button so you don’t miss it!
And Mitch, and Sundie, as always, it is great to have you here.
SUNDIE: Thank you.
Field Trip is a podcast from Frontline Education, a leading provider of school administrative software like Frontline HRMS. Frontline HRMS empowers your HR team to drive talent, compensation, benefits, and position management. You can find more information at FrontlineEducation.com.
For Frontline Education, I’m Ryan Estes. Thanks for listening and have a great day.