Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Plan to merge school custodial management into public works under consideration

By Suzanne Carlson
Journal Inquirer
Published: Monday, December 20, 2010 12:18 PM EST

VERNON — A plan to consolidate maintenance of the town and schools may be finalized Tuesday when the Town Council considers a request from the Board of Education to continue management of services by the public works director.

Public Works Director Robert Kleinhans, who has headed of the town’s department since November 2009 at a starting salary of $92,123, would become one of the town’s highest paid employees if the request is approved.

Kleinhans already has earned an additional $10,000 from the school board for four months of work, and he stands to make an additional $30,000 per year under the proposed agreement. If approved, Kleinhans would earn $122,123 annually, making him the fourth highest paid town employee behind School Superintendent Mary P. Conway, Assistant Superintendent Deborah Murasso, and Vernon Center Middle School Principal Beth Katz.

Conway, who was hired in March, earns $155,000 per year, according to her three-year contract.

Though both Democrats and Republicans have said they support eliminating redundancies and cutting costs, concerns about procedural process and transparency have divided both the board and council along party lines.

In May, six months after his hire by the town, Kleinhans gave a presentation to the board during a closed executive session, outlining his 18-month trial plan for consolidation of services, according to information provided to the Journal Inquirer.

Titled “Consolidating Facilities Management, a Blueprint for Savings,” the plan outlined objectives such as development of a long-term capital plan, streamlining work orders, development of a management plan for each building, and coordination of grounds care with the Parks and Recreation Department.

The previous maintenance director, Richard “Chico” Parrot, earned approximately $70,000 annually before he retired in 2009. That year, he earned a total of $105,307 with longevity pay, according to information from the town.

On the advice of board lawyer Fred Dorsey, Conway hired Kleinhans in late August as a “stop-gap” to ensure that the schools would be ready for students to arrive, but neither the council nor the board was informed of the decision until weeks later.

Officials with the three-person school managers’ union objected to the arrangement, and Kleinhans’ employment by the board initially was limited to only 120 days. The union agreed in early October to allow the board to eliminate the position, leaving only two employees in the union.

Mayor Jason L. McCoy since has clarified that food services director Monica Pacheco and assistant director of plant operations Joseph Ganges did not have a problem with Kleinhans being hired, and union officials beyond the local level objected on technical grounds, which since have been resolved.

At a special meeting on Dec. 1, the board voted unanimously to request that the public works director manage custodial and maintenance services for the board.

As a result, McCoy told council members at their Dec. 7 meeting that the town administration is now ready for the council to approve the board’s request and solidify the current arrangement with Kleinhans for 12 months, after which the council could vote to extend the contract.

Under the proposed resolution, which was provided to the Journal Inquirer and will come up for the council’s consideration Tuesday, the board, “shall transfer or pay the costs to the town of Vernon’s director of public works” in the amount of $30,000 annually.

McCoy said in a letter that the best administrative approach would be for the board’s business office to issue a separate draft check “for the services to be provided.”

That would help the town avoid issues such as “fictitious budgetary increases, duplicative administrative processes, re-appropriations by the Town Council at the time of each payment, as well as legal or constitutional issues if the policy does not work out and the extension of the resolution is not re-adopted.”

In anticipation of objections, McCoy warned that the board would be in attendance to answer questions, and council members should, “Please try to show the same amount of professionalism that you would expect in return if you were on the other side of a discussion on this policy implementation.”

Republicans’ main response to critics of the plan is that it will save taxpayers money.

School board Chairwoman Anne Fischer has said the arrangement would save $70,000 annually because it eliminates Parrot’s position, but McCoy has repeatedly quoted a figure nearly double that, though it is unclear how those savings would be achieved.

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