Betting on Civil Servants: Improving Public Schools by Training & Motivating Government Employees

What makes any organization successful? People. Government is no different. The people who make government work are the civil servants. That is why the Civil Service Reform (CSR), an Oversight Board-led initiative, focuses on improving the experiences of Government of Puerto Rico employees, so that they can grow in their careers, learn through improved training, have a more positive work experience and, in turn, feel more motivated to transform their departments and provide the best services to Puerto Rico residents.

The CSR has already helped the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget improve employee experience, and now it expands to another agency: the Puerto Rico Department of Education (PRDE).

“Education was not initially included in the reform because PRDE has its own statutes that govern how it manages its employees,” said Arnaldo Cruz, Director of Policy and Research at the Financial Oversight & Management Board for Puerto Rico. “However, given the success of CSR, PRDE requested to be added.”

Some of the issues PRDE seeks to resolve though CSR have been widely reported in the news: missing school supplies, equipment that was stored and forgotten in warehouses, and long, tedious wait periods for filling vacancies, which, on more than one occasion, have left a classroom full of students without a teacher. At on-site visits at public schools during the initial stages of the CSR, the Oversight Board staff heard first-hand accounts of how long the schools must wait to receive materials and equipment, and as part of the implementation of the CSR at the PRDE, the Oversight Board identified that teams in charge of technology management, property and inventory, among others, do not have the personnel required to manage the needs of all 848 schools within the system.

This is one issue that is being addressed during the first phase of the CSR at the PRDE.

“We believe that by improving the work environment and the teams, we will improve the services students receive,” said Cruz. “Improving public servants’ experience, being able to retain and attract the best talent, and motivating the employees who are in the agency right now will have an impact on the operational areas that are responsible for providing these services to schools. This will make transformation possible from the top down.”

As part of the first phase, the Oversight Board and PRDE restructured the work charts at the administrative level, which includes departments responsible for finances, procurement, budget, technology, and use of federal funds. Areas that required additional personnel within these departments were identified and over 200 new vacant positions have been announced. Through phase one of CSR, job descriptions for both new and existing roles were updated, and salaries have been adjusted to market-based competitive levels. With the updated descriptions, 74% of employees included in the first phase of CSR were reclassified, with a clear job description and more specific goals. Furthermore, a new learning and development methodology will be implemented through an online learning platform for employees to be able to improve their current skills or gain additional knowledge to grow in their field.

The expectation is that, by improving the public servants’ experience, retaining and attracting the best talent, and motivating the employees who are in the agency right now, the operational areas that are responsible for providing services to schools will change for the better and, those employees will fuel a department-wide transformation that will spread from the administration to the classrooms, improving the services students receive.

The first phase is expected to be implemented in its entirety by the end of 2024. Subsequent phases would likely include human resources, special education, and other academic areas.

When services to schools improve, that means students are receiving a better education. The Oversight Board will continue working with the Government of Puerto Rico so that public school students receive the best services and education possible.

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