By Douglas Moser
---- — METHUEN — School and city elected officials have been eyeing ways to save money by consolidating some of the operations of the School Department with the rest of the city departments.
Councilors Tom Ciulla and Jamie Atkinson and School Committee members Lynne Hajjar Kumm and Mark Graziano have been meeting over the winter, poring over purchasing contracts to find places to eliminate redundancies and paring down the list of vendors.
“We’re looking at what’s being ordered and the unit costs,” said Graziano, the director of finance and operations at The Pike School in Andover. “For example, why use two suppliers for office suppliers? Are the HVAC services done by same firm? That’s the piece we’ve been looking at first.”
Financial officials from the city and schools, Thomas Kelly and Glenn Fratto, as well as purchasing employees have been working with the committee.
Committee members said spending on things like office supplies, legal counsel and maintenance services as one large entity instead of two smaller entities could save money.
For example, the city has its own in-house legal department, while the School Department contracts with private attorneys for its legal services. The members want to figure out whether it is cheaper to continue that way or to have the city solicitor’s office handle school legal matters.
Graziano and Ciulla said they hope to be able to recommend proposals to their respective committees soon. Kumm, who chairs the committee, hopes to have the first recommendations this month.
“I don’t know (how soon,)” Ciulla said. “We’re still going through the thought process.”
He added, “It’s so time consuming and we have to go through so much material. There’s two different systems on the city side and the school side.”
After purchasing, the next area to tackle would be liability insurance for all departments. But for the time being, the group wants to stay focused on one area at a time.
“In terms of other areas, everything is on the table,” Kumm said.
The committee was resurrected after a similar committee in 2011 stalled because of turnover among the members after the election that year. Kumm pushed to restart the review.
The committee began meeting as the city and school officials worked to establish a written list and value of service charge backs, which are costs the city charges to the schools for things like the school resource officers and grounds keeping.
Kumm said the committee does not have any authority to make cuts or personnel decisions. Its purpose is to review certain parts of the city and schools’ budgets and make recommendations to the School Committee and the City Council. Those bodies must vote on any budgetary changes.
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