District’s HR department realigned for speed

by Jim Boyle
The Elk River Area School District’s human resources department has been realigned with a mixture of some newly approved positions and the deletion of some long-standing positions.

Under the new configuration, the school district’s human resources department will have greater capacity to make more and quicker decisions about its program design and its implementation.

The department will also be aiming to provide 24/7 services to the 2,000 employees it serves.

This more robust human resources department that gets beyond a transaction-focused operation could truly transform the district, according to Dennis Dahlman, one of the consultants who helped the district assess where it was at and re-draw the department.

“This department has not changed in decades,” said Rod Barnes, the newly titled executive director of labor relations and personal services.

Superintendent Mark Bezek echoed this at a Dec. 13 school board meeting while speaking broadly about various district departments.

“The fact of the matter is the district has grown, and the infrastructure has not,” Bezek said. “We have a lot of catching up to do.”

The price tag for the newly designed department is $115,000 after $201,000 worth of salary and benefits for two deleted positions is removed.

Barnes will continue to draw the same salary, but his job description as an assistant superintendent will take on new dimensions. He will no longer report to Randy Anderson, the executive director of business and operations.

He will instead report to Bezek as an assistant superintendent and be better positioned to move the district forward with its goals and initiatives.

“Right now Rod (Barnes) has to make the final decision on everything,” Bezek said.

The newly created manager of employment services, which will command an $80,000 salary (the second most in the HR department), will provide some relief. This change will free the executive director to concentrate more on contract negotiations and devising ways to achieve the goals established by the School Board. He will have help, too.

“I need someone who can move projects along,” Barnes said at a Dec. 6 work session.

Barnes will go from supervising two managers and a coordinator to supervising two managers, including the manager of employment services.

The manager of employment services will supervise two newly created employment specialists.

The two managers in the newly designed department will also share a confidential secretary.

Gone from the mix will be the manager of human resources and coordinator of human resources posts. Their duties will be doled out.

Barnes described the change as badly needed and fiscally responsible, as the district’s increased expenses will be limited to $115,000.

The changes were devised by Barnes, other District 728 administrators and a pair of consultants who raved about the district’s operation but confirmed for the School Board the nature of the district’s needs at the Dec. 6 work session.

One of the consultants was Dahlman, the principal owner of the Dahlman Consulting firm. He is the former HR director in Hopkins who also worked in the Anoka-Hennepin School District. He has negotiated more than 150 contracts and he had high praise for Barnes.

“You have a person that understands labor relations,” he said. “He really knows what he’s doing. He’s good at keeping things objective on tough topics.”

Dahlman said most private sector firms separate labor relations and human resources. School districts don’t and HR directors begin to be pulled in too many directions.

“Things suffer then,” he said.

Under a new structure the department should be able to align itself to the mission and strategic goals of the district.

Of similar importance is a need to protect the district’s vulnerability when people in his department go on vacation. By having two employment specialists, they will be able to cover for one another when one person is gone.

The department, which supports the district’s active workforce and a substitute workforce as well as retirees and a robust stream of applicants, has been designed to move human resources projects along more quickly and take on more projects than in the past.

Pay equity is an issue that will be tended to over the next year or two, Bezek said.

The development of a performance review system, a plan to address absences and, of course, health care initiatives are also on the docket, to name a few.

Dahlman said he is impressed that Elk River schools under Barnes’ leadership has not let the issue of health care sit. He said the changes the district has sought will save the district millions of dollars.

School board member Jolene Jorgensen said she is amazed how much the department has done with so few people. She said it was one of the remaining vestiges of a large district operating in a small district mode.

“I fully support this,” Jorgensen said. “It aligns to give our employees the best service. It aligns (the human resources department) with teaching and learning.”

The new structure will just be a start.

“It used to be said for every 100 employees you should have one full-time HR person,” Dahlman said, adding that may not be realistic.

“This is a beginning,” he said. “This is not going to solve all of HR’s problems.”

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