Those who thought that Riverside Elementary School District 96 would save money in administrative costs after the retirement of Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson may need to think again.

At 1:05 a.m. on April 5, the District 96 school board voted unanimously to adopt the recommendation of incoming superintendent Bhavna Sharma-Lewis and create two new administrative positions, the director of finance and operations and the director of academic excellence.

The vote came after a four-hour education committee meeting on April 4 where, among other matters, Sharma-Lewis presented her proposed administrative structure, which included the two new administrative positions.

After the education committee meeting ended around 11 p.m. the school board convened a special meeting and immediately voted to go into closed session. The board met with Sharma-Lewis in closed session to review her proposal. Two hours later the board emerged to vote on creating the new positions.

At the education committee meeting Sharma-Lewis said her goal was to move the district from good to great, using the words of the popular management expert and author Jim Collins.

Sharma-Lewis told education committee members that she decided on her recommendations after meeting with many district stakeholders over the last three months. The new administrative positions are designed to free principals from their current district-wide responsibilities and make them more visible and active inside their schools.

“Staff wants principals to be more in the building,” Sharma-Lewis said. “I’m hearing from the community in general that things are not getting done.”

Presently, Central School Principal Janice Limperis also serves as the district’s director of district learning systems.

The director of academic excellence will work on professional development, teacher evaluation, the implementation of the new Common Core standards and other educational matters.

“While Dr. Sharma-Lewis does have a Ph.D. in teaching and learning, in the most immediate, shorter term, the next few years, we want her working directly with the principals,” said District 96 school board President Mary Ellen Meindl. “We’ll have two new principals, and we’re taking away the director of teaching and learning, which has been part of what Dr. Limperis does.”

Meindl said that enrollment has grown by 22.1 percent since Lamberson took over and the number of minority students and special education students has also increased, so there is a need for more administrators.

“It’s not the same school system as we were looking at seven years ago,” Meindl said. “And Dr. Lamberson and Dr. Limperis were both very experienced and they were able to wear multiple hats.”

The director of finance and operations will supervise the technology infrastructure director, the cafeteria manager, the maintenance supervisor, the human resources assistant and the district’s two payroll personnel.

Meindl said she didn’t know what the new administrators would be paid. Reached Monday, Sharma-Lewis said that the budget for the two positions combined would not exceed $250,000.

Sharma-Lewis also recommended that the district hire an instructional specialist to work with teachers, but the board decided not to move ahead with that recommendation at this time.

The next regular school board meeting is scheduled for April 16 when the school board will vote on some other new positions and programs suggested by the current administration at the education committee meeting.

Meindl said it was important to approve the new administrative positions as soon as possible so that the new positions could be posted on the district’s website and give the district a chance to hire the best candidates for the new jobs.

“We’re trying to get ahead of the curve and trying to get this out so we can get the best people,” Meindl said. Meindl said that the April 9 election had nothing to do with the board’s action or the timing of the action. She said that the winning candidates, whoever they are, won’t be seated until the May school board meeting. By then, she said, the best candidates for the jobs might have already been hired by other districts.

“It’s still the current board’s decision,” Meindl said.

Meindl said the director of academic excellence position will be evaluated after a couple of years after Sharma-Lewis has had time to get things done in the district.

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