Finizio backs some city, school consolidation

New London - The mayor announced Monday that he endorses a phased-in plan to consolidate some city and school functions and has distributed a memo to city councilors and school board members recommending a blending of the two finance departments.

Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said his office has researched the consolidation of education and town departments in East Hampton, Mansfield and Madison and has concluded that long-term savings can be achieved by phasing in consolidation. He recommends the city oversee the finances and the school district take over information technology services.

"Consolidation can create not only cost savings, but can increase efficiency and transparency in our city and school budget process," Finizio said in Monday's statement.

East Hampton officials estimated that consolidation saved the town about $1 million over 10 years, Finizio said.

The mayor outlined the findings of his administration's study in the memo and included a consolidation report from the Town of Mansfield that was prepared by New London Finance Director Jeff Smith. Smith was the former finance director in Mansfield.

"I look forward to working with the consolidation committee, the Board of Education, and the City Council to formulate a plan for a phased-in implementation of Finance department consolidation," Finizio added.

But the consolidation committee, which was set up last March, is still meeting and has yet to make a recommendation.

Superintendent of Schools Nicholas Fischer, who is on the Consolidated Administrative Services Oversight Committee with Finizio and Mitchell College President Mary Ellen Jukoski, said the group is gathering information and has not voted on any recommendations.

Fischer said he was hoping to look at communities that are similar to New London and have combined services before making a decision.

"We did meet once,'' said Fischer, who received the memo from Finizio on Monday. "We talked about gathering information from communities that have actually consolidated and what it has taken financially to do that."

Fischer said he wants to see how much it would cost the city to make the changes.

"We are more than open to talking about consolidation,'' Fischer said. "But what is the value?"

He added that the schools have been working with city officials to save money. The two departments consolidated health insurance offerings, and they now purchase energy as a unit to save money. The school district is also part of the state's purchasing consortium, which provides greater purchasing power, he said.

Jukoski referred questions to the mayor's office.

Bill Morse, president of the school board and in favor of consolidating, praised the mayor for "jump-starting the process" but said he wants more information on school districts similar to New London.

"I'm not saying this isn't a starting point,'' Morse said. "But we should be looking at school systems with similar demographics. With the demographics goes the funding."

East Hampton, Madison and Mansfield are smaller than New London and have a different student body, he said. He suggested the committee look at New Britain, which has consolidated its finances and is similar in size and make-up to New London.

The school board is waiting for recommendations from the committee, he said.

Peg Curtin, who was a member of the City Council and now serves on the school board, has been an advocate for consolidation for years.

"In my mind, the Board of Education is in the business of education, and finances belong on the city side,'' she said. "I think it would be a lot easier that way."

Two years ago, Michael Passero, then a city councilor and now president of the council, and Morse, who was a member of the school board at the time, came upon a 2003 Consolidated Services Study, which recommended forming an oversight committee to study the possibility of consolidation.

"I'd be happy to see any movement,'' Passero said. "But so far I've seen zero willingness by any of the professional staff to move forward.''

k.edgecomb@theday.com

The mayor's consolidation plan

Phase I: Improve existing consolidation services to increase savings.

Phase II: Consolidate information technology services under Board of Education; consolidate school board and city finances into one department.

Phase III: Reorganize consolidated services and assess employee duties to reduce duplication.

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