Cleveland ISD trims fat, saving taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars

Stephen McCanless

Next Tuesday, Feb. 15, will be 90 days since Stephen McCanless was appointed interim superintendent of Cleveland ISD, and he has wasted no time in looking for cost savings and setting goals for the District. As the lone finalist for superintendent, McCanless is expected to step into that role in early March after the state-mandated 21-day waiting period passes.

In January, prior to his selection as superintendent, McCanless shared with the District’s board of trustees details of how he has saved $800,000 by realigning and reorganizing positions, and eliminating redundant jobs, all without the loss of a single job. Some of the positions realigned were administrative and curriculum coordinator jobs.

“No one lost their job. We just made smart, strategic placement of our existing staff,” McCanless said.

Some of the reorganization involves using employees already working for the District to take on different roles at new campuses that are nearing completion. These measures alone are said to have saved Cleveland ISD approximately $800K.

By repurposing the old Northside Elementary campus as a ninth-grade campus, thereby avoiding the expense of additional portable buildings at the high school campus, the District saved another $800,000, McCanless said.

“New portables for the high school would have cost the District $1.8 million as opposed to the $1 million we will spend to repurpose the old Northside campus,” he said.

McCanless said that avoiding more portable buildings was a smart decision for the District.

“Those types of buildings are not made for long-term use. They are not like brick structures and aren’t a good long-term solution,” he said.

Another cost-savings initiative that has paid off was Cleveland ISD’s participation in a purchasing cooperative with other school districts. The combined buying power of all the member school districts resulted in a refund of $90,000 to Cleveland ISD.

“By doing this, and funneling purchases through the coop, they brought us a check for $90,000,” he said.

Since his appointment as interim, McCanless has also emphasized “The Cleveland Way” culture among staff and students. He believes it’s imperative that Cleveland ISD not lose its identity even though it is the fastest-growing school district in the State of Texas.

“We want to embrace what our community is all about. In any fast-growing school district, it would be easy to lose their identity. We don’t want that to happen in Cleveland and are working toward keeping The Cleveland Way,” he said.

Under his leadership, Cleveland ISD also has completed its organizational chart and posted it on the District’s website, commenced its review of policies and engaged in the Lone Star College Superintendents’ Council.

“When I first came here, the Superintendents’ Council was called the Five-Star Alliance. I was doing that for the District under Dr. Myers but then we stopped participating,” he said. “We have become active again. They are helping us with dual credit and course offerings for students to get college credits. We also are looking at some night class offerings in the community where people can use our high school campus as a location for college classes.”

McCanless said District administrators, Board President Willie Carter and the board of trustees strive to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.

“We are going to do a complete facilities audit every three years and make changes where they are needed,” he said as an example.

McCanless’s other goals are to collaborate with Colony Ridge Development on future land availability for additional campuses, hold meet-and-greets with community residents every three months, collaborate with new charter schools that are being built in the Plum Grove area, strengthen the relationship with the Fast Growth Schools Council and look into the possibility of establishing an Early College High School, a P-Tech campus and technical programs for students.

“Our goal is to raise student performance across the District. Our future plans of the Early College High School and the technology campuses could involve students interning with some of the District’s employees to teach them plumbing and basic electrical knowledge,” he said.

As much as Cleveland ISD residents may dread the possibility of another bond referendum, McCanless believes it likely will be necessary to pass bonds in 2022, 2024 and 2026 for new middle school, high school and elementary campuses.

“Bond passage is a must. The District has spent $10 million-plus on 58 portable buildings since 2015,” he said.

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