Reorganization questioned as district requests $500k
STAMFORD — Months after its completion, the superintendent’s central office reorganization plan was called into question after he requested $500,000 for salaries and benefits for new positions.
At a meeting of the Board of Education’s fiscal and operations committee last week, Superintendent Earl Kim and the district’s new chief fiscal and operations support officer Clarence Zachery asked to transfer $509,000 to central organization costs to cover salaries and benefits for new employees.
According to a memo from Hugh Murphy, director of finance, the funds came from accounts originally preserved for education consulting, instructional program improvements, contracted services, legal fees, a special education teacher, a charter school and $100,000 from retirement. Kim said the funds were taken from where the district expects to see sustained savings following the reorganization, such as consulting contracts whose services are replaced by new central office staff and training for people taking on new roles.
A previous memo in August to the board had predicted this cost difference between the budget for the reorganization and the projected cost.
The request was approved in a unanimous vote, but not without questions.
“The perception is different than the reality and I think it’s based around the way you did this,” said board member Jackie Heftman. “This is an ‘18-’19 budget transfer where we’re just at beginning the ’18-’19 school year. I’m wondering why at this point in time we’re doing this as opposed to at the end of the year. It falsely gives the wrong information. It makes it seem the re-org cost the district half a million [dollars] when what you’re saying is savings were found in other areas of the budget.”
Kim’s said the funds were shifted within this year’s approved $273 million budget. When the budget was proposed in January, Kim said there wasn’t any structure in place for reorganization. Once that structure was put in place, changes were made.
“We’re still working on the re-org,” he said. “We’re still repurposing staff and figuring out at what cost. It should be a logical connection between what this position does and what the consultants used to do. What you’re getting with this transfer is what we confer to be our revised budget based on the people we have in central office now. We developed the budget with what we had before we started going through the process of reorganization”
While some board members agreed with what Kim called “cost avoidance,” others disagreed with the methods used for the plan, which he said would not cost taxpayers.
“My understanding with this is our salary is up by $509,000, but we’re also projecting our other expenses to go down because of this increase,” said board member Mike Altamura. “I don’t see that as being a cost-avoidance step.”
According to Zachery, many of the costs tied to the re-org, which is still being worked on, will phase out as people are trained for their new jobs and the plan is finished. Costs will be saved on consulting in favor of paying central office employees.
“If you substitute the word ‘cost’ for ‘salary,’ it is indeed neutral,” said board chair and committee member David Mannis. Kim “had a number of functions being done by consultants that will now be done by employees. We’re done paying the consultants, but we’ll start paying employees. The total is expected to be neutral. The reality is legitimate, but I also think he might’ve been clearer.”
According to an August memo to Board of Education staff from Zachery and executive director of human resources Stephen Falcone, central office staffing remained the same at 81.5 full-time equivalent positions from last school year. The headcount stayed the same by moving some employees previously staffed by central office for historic purposes to other departments based on the work their role requires.
The memo also estimated a cost for the reorganized positions of $508,648 between the expected budget and projected cost of the project and accounted for $642,765 in savings from sustained reductions in consulting, vacancies, facilities management and legal fees.
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