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New Committee to Fix $4 Million Gaffe

A Blue Ribbon Committee is in the process of being formed in order to help solve the $4 million difference in the minimum budget requirement (MBR).

Mayor Erin Stewart and Superintendent of Schools Kelt Cooper met on Tuesday at the Mayor’s office to come to some kind of compromise.

The controversy stems from Former Mayor Tim O’Brien giving the board of education $123 million in the MBR last year. However, $4 million was meant to come from the state, according to Stewart. Stewart’s budget has the school board receiving $118 million. This leaves the school $4 million short from what they have budgeted.

The state was asked to help and they sent back a letter telling the City its job is only to distribute funds.

The Blue Ribbon Committee will consist of 12 members. Four will be from the board of education, six from the common council, Stewart and Cooper.

“We’re looking for a date to tentatively schedule our first meeting, but it will be sometime in May,” said Stewart. “This is a joint endeavor. The purpose of it is to foster an open dialogue between all branches of City government to explore and make recommendations on ways to collaboratively save taxpayer dollars by consolidation of resources. The committee shall submit a report of their finding to the full common council and the board of education no later than July 1, 2014.”

Stewart said it is not uncommon that these are formed to look at specific issues. Experts will be brought to the table to give opinions on the situation.

“We will explore all avenues of where we can consolidate resources and save the City money,” Stewart said. “It’s no secret we have duplication.”

There are two human resource departments, two finance departments, two IT departments in the City.

“We need to function more efficiently and effectively,” said Stewart.

“The Mayor and I spoke about this idea at our meeting last week,” said Sharon Beloin Saavedra, school board president. “I fully support a joint committee to review various options and the feasibility of consolidating certain functions of our systems.”

Each caucus can appoint membership. Two Democrats, two Republicans from the board of education and each common council caucus will get three.

As of Wednesday the board of education leadership team will include Saavedra, Carlos Pina and Dan Davis.

“I anticipate that this will make recommendations to solve more than just the $4 million issue,” said Stewart. “The end result will be a consolidation of staff.”

The goal is to get something in place during the 2014-15 budget year.

State statute allows the MBR to change based on consolidation of services.

“They understand the budget situation the City is going through and this was the result,” said Stewart. “They have all been more than willing to come together. This is not just going to be a happy, feel good committee. We will have something come of this. It will get done.”

Stewart said it will set the stage for years to come.

“We have not worked together and we are not going to let that happen any longer,” Stewart added.

The City Attorneys are verifying the legalities and then this will be put together.

Each department can come in to discuss their issues during the process.

“I believe we will be looking at both short and long term objectives that will yield not only cost savings but increase efficiencies and communication between the two sides of local government,” said Saavedra. “The school board and the City are two sides of the same coin.”