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.