Assignment: Study the benefits of consolidation

It has been said that a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. The Winthrop School Committee voted unanimously last Thursday night to start the process of finding out if the administrative functions of both the School Committee and Town Hall can be combined to save the taxpayers money. School Superintendent Stephen Jenkins and Town Manager James McKenna or their designees will be meeting to explore the possibilities in the coming weeks and report back before the newly set time limit of March 31 with a possible implementation date of July 1.

Town Council President Jeff Turco proposed the consolidation idea after he saw it reported in a municipal publication that the Town of Barnstable implemented it and saved more than $100,000 after spending almost a year in working out the merger.

“Separate services is a luxury that we can not afford,” Turco told his colleagues on the School Committee.

He told the Committee that Rep. Bob DeLeo said at a municipal conference that there would be cuts in local aid for the new fiscal year that starts on July 1.

“The only argument against this type of consolidation is about power and control,” he added when asked about potential risks.

However, he did acknowledge that in some mergers like the one that he is proposing that there may not be a good fit between the two departments. He also noted that both town government and school departments staffing levels are already cut very thin and the savings from combined salaries would probably not be that substantial.

“Closing facilities could generate a savings,” School Committeeman William Holden added referring to the fact that the E.B. Newton School may not be needed if all services were moved to Town Hall.

Holden questioned whether there would be a need for a human resource department that the Town presently does not have funded. Turco said that rather than laying-off employees maybe their job could be changed to create a needed human resource department for the entire town.

“This is the wave of the future,” School Committeewoman Mary Lou Osborne said, adding, “Andover is looking at the process. They have engaged outside services to analyze what exists now and see if the schools and town are a good fit.”

Holden noted that the Town of Worcester did not implement the merger of the two departments.

Turco noted that the Collins Center of UMass has offered to help guide the process of a possible consolidation.

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