Schools, city don’t mix, study suggests

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 7, 2005

The city government and Suffolk Public Schools should continue to operate independently, at least for the time being, a recently released study suggests.

A committee tasked with determining whether the two bodies should merge some its operations-such as fleet management and purchasing-says such consolidations wouldn’t be effective or economically efficient right now.

&uot;From the outside, it looks like a lot of what we do is similar,&uot; said Bethanne Bradshaw, a school system spokeswoman. &uot;But when you look at the details, you see that we do a lot of things differently and on different calendars.

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&uot;Things may change as the city grows,&uot; she said. &uot;But I think it’s something that will warrant looking at by each administration.&uot;

The panel is recommending it meet twice a year to reevaluate the feasibility of sharing services.

The study, which was given to the Suffolk City Council this week, determined that:

The finance departments should not merge, largely because of potential problems the school system and city would face in consolidating the two different financial accounting systems now in use.

There are also differences in the organizations’ payroll administration, including pay cycles, deduction frequencies and operating systems.

The study also noted that a consolidation would not reduce the work volume or number of personnel.

Consolidating health insurance and other benefits would not necessarily result in cost savings, the committee said. The primary reasons include the dramatic difference in health insurance participation levels between the city and school system – 92 and 68.5 percents respectively – and a significant difference in co-pay amounts.

Also, the city’s health insurance program operates on a calendar year while SPS’s plan runs from October to September.

Buildings and grounds maintenance would be difficult, largely because of the organizations’ different ways of getting work done.

The city has three departments responsible for such work.

Meanwhile, the school system uses a combination of contracted personnel and procured services for those responsibilities.

&uot;It would be difficult for one department to meet the schedule demands for four departments,&uot; the study noted.

The differences in the calendars of SPS’s contractual employees would also create problems if one city department was created.

The city and SPS also handle capital projects differently. While the city has a specific department to oversee the implementation of capital projects, the school division contracts with consultants to oversee school construction projects.

&uot;Expectations and demands of the city and school division on a consolidated department would make the supervision of such an agency difficult,&uot; the committee wrote.

Combining their purchasing capabilities would not result in a fiscal savings, largely because a small percentage of purchases are common to the city and SPS.

Fleet management would be increasingly difficult because the transportation fleets of both the school system and city are growing in size and operation.

The study also indicated that city and school system employees have significant differences in their benefit packages, work schedules and salary ranges.