Town, School Officials Divided Over IT Study

Members of the North Kingstown Town Council and School Committee listened to the findings of an IT consolidation study.

North Kingstown may be one baby step closer to consolidating some of its services following the findings of a study of the town and school department’s informational technology (IT) services.

Members of the North Kingstown Town Council and School Committee sat in a joint session Monday night to hear the findings of the $40,000 study by Elert & Associates – .  According to Elert’s Pete Gray, combining town and school IT support services could incur cost savings down the road. The study, which spanned five months and included interviews with town and school employees and an assessment of facilities, recommends that the town’s IT department take over the management of the school’s IT – excluding the management of servers, desktops, applications and desktop help desk support. According to the study’s findings, the town had a "solid" IT department while the school department’s infrastructure “is in need of some work.”

“The town has built a very robust infrastructure, so we felt that (school IT) could be ‘in-sourced’ back to the town,” said Gray. Along with North Kingstown's needs, the town's IT department also services the Town of Exeter.

The study also suggested the elimination of one position and restructuring of positions if the town and school departments did combine services. In their findings, Elert recommends that the town’s IT director, Jason Albuquerque, would handle the functions for both town and school departments. The school department does not have an IT director; instead, the network manager, Richard Booth and the assistant superintendent handle the duties of the school’s IT director.

"An organization the size of our community, I think we only need one person [to run IT]," said School Committee Member Bill Mudge, who supported the combining of town and school resources.

According to Elert, the reduction from eight staffers to seven staffers would yield about $72,000 in annual savings. Elert projects that a consolidated IT department could yield as much as $450,000 in savings over a five year period. Before that can happen, Gray says the school department’s IT infrastructure needs improving.

While town buildings’ telecommunication and equipment rooms rated favorably in Elert’s study – with the condition of four town buildings categorized “excellent” shape with two others in “fair” shape – only the 10-year-old () rated as excellent. , where the building's telecommunications room is housed in an active faculty bathroom, was rated as “unacceptable.” In total, the school department would need to do $293,000 worth of infrastructure improvements - $186,000 if they chose not to re-cable . On the town side, Elert recommends $10,500 work of improvements.

“There are a number of things our district needs to pay attention to and we prioritize a list of things we need,” said Superintendent Phil Auger. “Many of the things on this [list of suggested infrastructure improvements] don’t quite make it to the top.”

School Committee Member Melvoid Benson, however, supported the idea of spending money to save money down the road, comparing it to insulating a house and incurring energy savings later down the road.

For this consolidation to be successful, the Elert study states that all parties need to buy in to the plan. However, if the past four years have been any indication, that may be a tall order. Since the town’s consolidation committee was created four and a half years ago to study cost-saving measures, there has been no official consolidation of services between the town and school departments.

One area of contention following Elert’s presentation Monday night was the question of who would head this proposed town-wide IT department.

“It seems to me it's pretty clear in saying that the town IT director is to be taking over [for the school IT director,]” said School Committee Member Lynda Avanzato. “The savings seems to be the [elimination] of the school’s IT director.”

For Superintendent Phil Auger, the question of who would head the proposed town-wide IT department could lead to "major contention."

“Any system [for the school department] that would not have him (Booth) running the show, I’m worried about,” said Auger. “It’s not because I’m trying to protect someone who is loyal to me or is a friend:  this guy has a great job performance and is doing incredible work and has been saving us a lot of money over the years.”

Councilman Chuck Brennan suggested that the town and school departments look at “collaboration versus consolidation.”

“We both employ a lot of smart people,” said Brennan. “It shouldn’t be about fighting over who is in charge.”

Avanzato, pointing to the school department's size advantage over the town, suggested that the school's IT director serve as the town-wide director.

“We need to get away from the ‘my dog is bigger than your dog’ kind of thing,” said Town Manager Michael Embury. “Because four and a half years later, we’re still sitting here talking about the same thing.”

For Council Member Charles Stamm, who also sits on the consolidation committee, moving toward IT consolidation would be a “baby step” and stop the pattern of “kicking the can down the road.”

At Monday’s meeting, all members of the Town Council stated that they supported Elert’s recommendations. The School Committee will discuss the matter at its Jan. 17 meeting.

NKRI Transparency January 11, 2012 at 04:32 PM
If I was in debt being on the verge of ultimately not being able to pay my bills I would accept any and all suggestions and assistance in order to get my head above water. We are seeing much of the same across the state as many town school comm's are in debt dragging much down. Guessing I am living in a fantasy world to think NKSC is any different. The economy has exposed much allowing many to see the truth and reason as to why we are in this situation.
Wickford Light January 11, 2012 at 05:30 PM
Great article, much needed information for us taxpayers. As someone who played a leadership role for a company in the technology realm, and a resident who feels they need to be more involved now that retirement has set in, I needed to comment on this. First, I have read the report and would like to thank our town tech department for an outstanding review, in my opinion tax dollars well invested. This article and the report show two vastly different technology organizations, one of high level performance, and one that seems to have been neglected. This is one of those situations of "No Brainers"....a merger of the departments is a win-win. The taxpayers reap the benefits of some much needed savings, and both town and school reap the benefits of extremely high levels of performance and technology management. It also scares me that it seems as if some of our political figures did not fully read the report. How can an elected official even contemplate putting forward, having and under preforming department (proven in the audit) manage an extremely high performing department. The IT leadership at the schools is lacking, there is no question of that per the audit. Four plus years of this, you may want to put a move on or you will lose all of the talent you have acquired. All because of control. Let's use some common sense people. At this point the only hang up is control, as stated in the video by the Superintendent!
Wickford Light January 11, 2012 at 05:33 PM
As a leader it is not your job to be a controller, it is to be an influencer. In the other article on Patch there is little contention on losing control via outsourcing to reap savings....how is this different? This is actually a better scenario, because all of the most talented personnel stay in the organization, and benefits all. As elected officials your are the board, and the Super and Manager are the CEOs. CEOs may not always enjoy some of the direction, but it is their job to successfully implement the boards policy. Let's not waste 40K, Just do it! Everyone benefits, students, taxpayers, employees etc. Elected Officials, especially the school committee, do the right thing if you want the voters to do the same. Hey patch how about a poll of the taxpayers for this one, although I am sure we already know the answer to this???
NKGOP Watch January 11, 2012 at 06:20 PM
Are you saying Avenzato is cherry picking what she wants from the report? If so, she's no worse than the others.
NKGOP Watch January 11, 2012 at 06:26 PM
NK schools will need a network manager. Maybe Jason can get the top post in a new combined organizational tree, and help Booth implement any changes that will produce a better network assessment next time. There is no need to get rid of the network manager at the school and the heat would be off him IF any lesser results came up next time, it would be on Jason. Just sayin. Stop bickering, combine the depts, but KEEP everybody, and lets see what a 1-leader system does, or doesnt do, for the bottom line dollar and in terms of operation s results. It IS TRUE that Booth and the schools IT department has approx half the staff of just a few years ago and things are still functioning, at lower costs I might add. That shouldnt be ignored. But its not a reason not to consolidate.
Samantha Turner (Editor) January 11, 2012 at 06:58 PM
Terrific idea, Wickford Light. I'll have a poll up for you all tomorrow!
NKGOP Watch January 11, 2012 at 07:11 PM
So you're saying Avenzato took the easy quick path, did not really do the homework, jumped to a conclusion, and got defensive when challenged? Is that a fair assessment to make? What about the others? What did you think about Mel Benson's lengthy remarks on the topic?
NKGOP Watch January 11, 2012 at 07:41 PM
wow. thats what these blogs help with, community chatter tends to bring more of the picture out. but i'd have to see more people than one saying things werent right. why didnt this FORTY THOUSAND DOLLAR report include a basic user survey? the world wonders.
Joe Smith January 11, 2012 at 10:06 PM
combine the depts, but KEEP everybody, and lets see what a 1-leader system does, or doesnt do, for the bottom line dollar and in terms of operation s results. NKGOPWatch - good point. There is too much emphasis on immediate bottom line savings (meaning cut a position) as opposed to taking the baby step of combining similar functions to see if long-term efficiencies (common programs, common purchasing, cross-functional flexibility) result. Maybe single finance and purchasing office is next! (look at what Westerly is doing for example). What's missing from the study that I hope the T/C asked the consulting company to fix (which should have been in the original scope of work) -- instead of comparing with another town (SK in this case), find a town of similar size that has *actually done* consolidation and provided the T/C and NKSC some insights into what worked, what lessons were learned, etc. so the two groups have a head start in making this work. Wickford Light -- given your background, perhaps you can help the town in your retirement. I have been involved with a company that had rental spaces for various activities spread out geographically that used software to link all of them so any user could via the web check/reserve/pay for space/facilities. Other than the golf course (on-line tee time), why can't the town (and school) have a common system like that?
Dave January 12, 2012 at 03:22 AM
Joe S and NKGOP watch, some great comments regarding no immediate elimination of jobs, but rather first get all together and see what efficiencies can be gained. Some background in this regard might be helpful. In 2008, a TC member serving on the consolidation sub committee stated in a TC meeting that the TC was going to move their servers into the CD building and do just that. Then they could analyze over a period of time and see where to go from there. However, in 2010, 2 years later, and with the same TC President who questioned on Monday nite HOW on earth the atttempts to consolidate could go on for years with no progress, the TC, over the objection of citizens who asked them not to, changed course, and changed their minds. They built their own IT center at the police station, for 500 thousand of our tax dollars, UNBUDGETED. This was the beginning of the end of consolidation ladies and gentlemen.
Dave January 12, 2012 at 03:38 AM
This Town Manager has no desire to consolidate or cooperate and could not do so with FOUR successive Superintendents. The dog and pony show of the other night was just that. This report recommends spending 1.4 MILLION dollars on upgrades to infrastructure in order to consolidate, the money just isn't there. Agree about getting info on towns who have done this and how it paid off If it did) over time. That would be very helpful. Lastly, the TC just sued the SC after they were supposed to be sitting down to work things out together., During the meeting to work things out, the SC found out the Town had already sued them, filing a 16 page complaint using a 350$ per hour attorney, rather than the town lawyer. The Elert report stated that in order to work, the TC and SC need to cooperate and collaberate, and that the SC had to trust and take a leap of faith......The behavior of the Town Manager is not conducive to this, and the TC has not put him in check. I suspect this is one of the major issues with consolidation. Committee member Avanzato seemed to be questioning the consultant's claims that this report has no conclusion about which employee would stay and which would go, not true, the report, (very unwisely) made it clear who would go. It was a major mistake for this consolidation report to draw those conclusions and was bound to cause problems. Not smart.
Dave January 12, 2012 at 03:50 AM
Jack, I'll tell you why the report says it....becasue the Town was in charge of this report/consultant. The tC tried to cherry pick who they wanted to do the report and hire them for the study with no bid. The Sc objected to that and claimed that violated bidding laws. althoough it was then put out to bid, it seems like the TC was driving this bus. And why the Town is better equipped to take over?? Simple. They spent half a million unbudgeted taxpayer dollars to avoid consolidation, and made no cuts to their IT dept. whereas the schools, in an attempt to get to their 0% budget increases for the past 3 years, CUT 4 FTE's from the school IT side So of course the IT report says the town should take over, they are far better staffed!! They made no effort to cut anythign and built their own brand new IT center. Duh! Let's give the town the power they were seeking and award them for not making cuts and for spending money to avoid consolidation.
Tired of Tired January 12, 2012 at 11:29 AM
hey jim i mean jack how long ago did your kids go to hamilton middle? it hasnt been a middle school since forever. to bad you chose to overlook the underfunded schools.maybe if the town btook over they could turn water into wine and find another 500 thousand of unbudgeted money and then when your kids go to hamilton high they wont have a frozen computer. your political and personal vendettas cloud your judgement.
Wickford Light January 12, 2012 at 05:30 PM
@ NKGOP agreed these blogs can really help get good info out. As far as the surveys, the report has extensive survey data.  Right around page 30 there is an overview, and then appendices C and D have the full info. To my surprise the teachers are sorely lacking in customer service, and the admin office is very happy with their service,  what's wrong with that picture. The town side had good reviews, from all I read it seems like they run a tight ship. @ RI Jack to your point, the user survey shows that the classrooms are lacking or @Tired of Tired still lacking.  I understand politics plays a huge roll in this.  It is obvious some on patch have skin in the game.  But for a taxpayer who just wants the right thing, I care about facts, that’s it. 
Wickford Light January 12, 2012 at 05:38 PM
@Dave I can't speak to the Manager blocking consolidation, but I do know that there is plenty of documentation online that goes back to 2008 showing the town as a whole has been working in favor of IT consolidation with the schools. And the most recent Elert report and TC video shows that School "control" is the major roadblock.  Now, the info on the town IT center concerned me very much thanks for that heads up.  I looked for available documentation online & from what I have read it seems that this project was vetted properly as far as I can see.  This project was reviewed by the Asset Mgt commission, they did site surveys to both town & school buildings.  Asset Mgt ultimately recommended the PD option because the School IT Center does not meet building code, electrical code, or fire code.  It also shows there is no generator power, or  fire suppression systems in the school IT center either.  Then reading the Elert study, just look at the amount of work the school IT center needs, that shows some major neglect.  Personally I would not want to rely on my public safety agencies running out of the school IT building.  Honestly Dave, would you? Interestingly enough I also found an old article here on PATCH that you stated the same things about the IT center project and you were given pretty close to these same facts by another Patch user that you challenged & you never responded http://northkingstown.patch.com/articles/committee-delays-decisions-on-cost-cutting-moves
Wickford Light January 12, 2012 at 05:43 PM
As I stated in my first post, my entire career was in Tech consulting services and it is not a consultant’s job to recommend, specifically, who sits in what job position.  The report is for recommendations, direction and to represent the facts.  It is up to the client to take the facts and run with them.  There are redundancies, that need to be addressed to save the taxpayers.  Because they are true redundancies, there is minimal in no risk in service loss. Just from the positions I have seen you take throughout patch, your stances seem non-objective and bias… which for the average taxpayer like me, is suspect…just saying.  Going by the facts that are readily available, I unfortunately have to respectfully disagree with all of your statements.  
Wickford Light January 12, 2012 at 05:44 PM
If the consolidation happens, I would love to sit on an advisory board or the like.
Wickford Light January 12, 2012 at 05:45 PM
I look forward to the poll
NKresidenttaxpayervoter January 12, 2012 at 06:56 PM
oh how we do love our studies!. perhaps we should hire some to study the study. remember, baby steps.
NKRI Transparency January 12, 2012 at 09:19 PM
As a NK taxpayer I do not want to see an increase in my taxes.....any thoughts?
Dave January 17, 2012 at 12:54 AM
Wickford Light, you might want to dig a little deeper. I'm aware that Asset Mgt recommended the PD option...that is, after they had already recommended the CD option..in writing. They changed their minds very quickly after Embury got ahold of them. As far as the ELERT report, reports tend to reflect what the primary person in charge wants them to. Go back and find the report from Asset Mgt. that was unanimous in recommending the CD building before they changed their minds. The CD building is an existing building! It has 14 inch concrete walls, and a new roof. The other issues can be dealt with FAR more easily than building a new building. The supposed "code violations" were also conveniently timed and apparently only a problem during the time the Town needed to say no to coming into the CD building.
Dave January 17, 2012 at 12:54 AM
Further, the Town Manager claimed it would cost ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS for a new generator (one of the claimed reasons for not moving to the CD building), and that it was impossible to move the generator theTown already had. None of that made sense at all, a generator can be moved fairly easily. The Manager was adamantly opposed to moving into the CD building, and he used every silly excuse in the book to avoid it. The work that's needed at the CD building is not extensive, the building is a fallout shelter! Building an entire separate facililty for half a million unbudgeted dollars is not taxpayer friendly, and undermined consolidation, obviously. It didn"t go out to bid! I don't know about you but I have a problem with breaking the law that way. Sorry for not answering the claims on the prior article, I was most likely working and never saw those comments. I need to work hard to pay the taxes in this town for the Town Council's pet projects.


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