Vernon Board of Ed. to proceed with town's cost-saving suggestions

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon - posted Thu., Feb. 27, 2014
Vernon Superintendent Mary Conway discusses the Town Council's suggestions for consolidating non-educational services, at the Board of Education's meeting on Feb. 24. Photos by Steve Smith.
Vernon Superintendent Mary Conway discusses the Town Council's suggestions for consolidating non-educational services, at the Board of Education's meeting on Feb. 24. Photos by Steve Smith.

The Vernon Board of Education discussed its response to the Vernon Town Council's request to consolidate more non-educational services at its meeting on Feb. 24. Essentially, the board agreed in principle but said there will have to be a lot of discussion and work in order to figure out how savings could be realized.

The Town Council was prompted by a new piece of state legislation (Public Act 13-60) that was passed in June of last year, which would allow for a small portion of the town's budget to be shared with the school system, and allows the Town Council to make spending recommendations to the Board of Ed.

The town and schools already share resource officers, crossing guards, IT services, maintenance and snow removal operations, among others. At its meeting on Feb. 18, the Town Council had voted to ask the Board of Education to consider consolidation of human resources, purchasing and insurance brokering.

Superintendent Mary Conway said that the schools' human resources department is in its infancy – manned by 1.5 employees – and would likely have to absorb the town's human resources, due to the fact that the school employees outnumber those of the rest of the town by about 6 to 1.

She added that insurance brokering for the schools is in the bidding process, and that the large number of retirees who receive insurance make the issue a large one, as does the employee assistance program. But, she said that there may indeed be savings to be had, based on the cost per employee.

“I think that's a great idea,” Conway said. “We'd love to have the same broker. It would make things a lot easier, because we do have to get both brokers together, in order to go out and bid for things.”

Conway said purchasing also has a lot of possibilities for savings.

While some preliminary discussions among town and school administrators have taken place, there was a sense that many more discussions would be required.

Board member Dean Houle said that years ago the town and schools' human resources were under one umbrella and that it didn't work well, but things may have changed since then. “It makes sense to sit down and have a conversation,” Houle said. “I think we have to sit down, go through the fine points, and figure out what makes sense, who would have what accountability, and what responsibility would fall on which group. We need to form some committees to discuss each of the different topics individually.”

“I really think we do need to work together to get the best value for our services,” said board member Laura Bush. “It's a no-brainer when it comes to that. We need to get the best cost for everything.”

Board member David Kemp pointed out that he believes the Public Act doesn't specify that the schools consolidate the services with the town, and that they might do so either internally or with another district. Kemp added that he agreed the human resources would have to be absorbed by the schools. “To go into this with the presumption that the town was going to take over some of our operations, I believe, would be a false expectation,” he said.

The board passed a motion proposed by member Michele Arn to direct the superintendent to respond by appointing representatives to look into the consolidation of services. “My intention would be to be very positive with the town about their suggestion,” Arn said, “but holding back on a commitment by saying that we certainly want to investigate it with them, but then based on the finding of a committee, to take it to the next step.”

Board of Education Director of Finance Michael Purcaro said the motion makes sense. “I think there is a lot of potential here, but it has to be done very thoughtfully,” Purcaro said.

The board voted unanimously in favor of the motion.

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