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With some upfront investments, Fairfax County Public Schools could save about $10 million over the next five years if it makes some adjustments to its business practices, according to a state-sponsored efficiency review of the school system.

The results of the efficiency review, which has been in the works for more than two years, were presented to the Fairfax County School Board on Tuesday.

In the context of the school system’s $2.5 billion annual budget, the savings are relatively small. Fairfax County is already ahead of the curve in many areas, said Greg Gibson, president of Gibson Consulting Group, the contractor that conducted the review.

“This is a school system that strives to do things better,” Gibson said, telling School Board members that the system compares favorably to its peer districts on most measures. “We saw a lot of best practices that have been done here for years, years before other school systems jumped in.”

Despite the many positives of FCPS, there is room to improve the efficiency of the school system, but these are not quick fixes, Gibson said.

Gibson’s report makes more than 30 recommendations for improving efficiency and management.

Gibson said the School Board should adopt a strategic plan for the school system. While the board has set general goals for student achievement and other areas, it does not have attached timelines or metrics for evaluating progress toward those goals, Gibson said, which can hamper long-term planning in some FCPS departments.

The report also suggests that the school system establish a decision-making framework that would delineate responsibilities between the central office, cluster offices and individual schools.

As a result, Gibson said, there can be inconsistencies in how a given program is implemented.

“There are a lot of areas where it is not clear who has decision-making authority,” he said.

The report recommends some adjustments to school staffing in a couple of areas.

Gibson said the schools are currently using a higher number of custodians than is the industry standard. Several School Board members said they were perplexed by this, given that they had been hearing from custodians that the schools were under-staffed for custodial services.

In addition, the school principals are now supervising the custodial staff in each of their schools.

“I’m not saying principals aren’t capable of doing this, but don’t we want principals to be more focused on instructional matters and not cleaning buildings?” Gibson asked.

The report recommends centralizing supervision of custodial staff to new custodial supervisor positions and, over time, looking at increasing the amount of square footage assigned to each custodian.

Other recommendations include reviewing the staffing ratios for school administrative staff, possibly shifting some administrative positions from elementary schools to middle or high schools. Right now, elementary schools have a lower student-to-administrator ratio although, theoretically, the workload should be less there, the report states.

The report suggests a pilot program to consider part-time assistant principals at some low enrollment elementary schools, where an assistant principal would split his or her time between two schools.

While the school system has a strong technology team, Gibson said, the review found a number of areas where paper record-keeping and processes are still in full effect. The school system could also make clerical staff more efficient by implementing an electronic timesheet system and automating other processes.

“In 2013, we’re still using paper timesheets,” he said.

In the areas of transparency and accountability, the report recommends that the school system use an online dashboard system to make it easier to navigate the FCPS budget and that the School Board expand the function of its internal audit office.

The School Board will meet with Gibson again Oct. 21 to continue discussing the findings of the report, which board members received for the first time on Tuesday.

The report is available on the Virginia Department of Education website at http://www.doe.virginia.gov/school_finance/efficiency_reviews/index.shtml.

kschumitz@fairfaxtimes.com