A meeting to identify potential cost savings in city administration was stymied Wednesday night when only three city figures turned up.
The Cost Savings Working Group, chaired by Ward 22 Alder Jeanette Morrison, was created this spring to evaluate contracts for city workers and identify potential cost savings. An offshoot of the Board of Alders’ Finance Committee, the working group includes fewer than 10 officials from a variety of organizations: the Board of Alders, the city administration, local unions and the Board of Education. But Wednesday’s low attendance — partially due to committee members missing the meeting to attend parent-teacher conferences — stunted the group’s productivity.
Only Morrison, Office of Legislative Services Director Albert Lucas and Matthew Brokman — a representative for Connecticut’s branch of the AFSCME union, which represents city workers — attended Wednesday’s meeting.
“The idea is to review contracts that the city has put out to bid over the years,” Brokman said. “One of the things we’ve found is that the city will put something out to bid … but they didn’t ask whether it still makes sense to have that contract.”
Morrison said the group has identified one leading cost-saving measure in the groundskeeping staff of the Board of Education. Currently, the Board hires private contractors to perform tasks — such as replacing lightbulbs and fixing air conditioning filters — that the custodial staff could do at a lower price, Morrison said. The city can realize other cost savings by turning to public workers, she added, noting that custodial staff’s overtime labor is cheaper than the high rates charged by private contractors. Last winter, for example, the city saved money when custodial staff, rather than private contractors, plowed school parking lots.
The committee had originally planned to spend Wednesday evening discussing the addition of a new maintenance position to the Board of Education staff.
If the “floater” position is approved, the staff member who fills the role will go from school to school performing maintenance work that would otherwise be done by private contractors. Brokman said the position — which will tentatively be called “Building Maintainer” -— will be unattached to any specific school, unlike in the current system, where custodial staff are based at a single school.
Morrison and Brokman proposed adding this position to committee member Victor De La Paz, chief financial officer of the Board of Education, in July. Twenty minutes before Wednesday’s meeting, De La Paz sent Morrison and Brokman an email stating that he could not attend the meeting.
De La Paz’s email also expressed doubt that the new position will be necessary, since other staff members already perform the functions the Building Maintainer will.
“The current Building Manager position covers much of the items referenced [in the job description],” De La Paz wrote, adding that he and other Board administrators would need to know the “financial value” of the position before making a decision.
Given Wednesday’s poor attendance, the group decided to push the discussion to October. Morrison said a face-to-face conversation with De La Paz is crucial before a decision can be made about the position.
Morrison and Brokman both said the impetus for creating the position came from the high costs incurred by using private contractors for relatively simple tasks. Instances of this abound across the city, Brokman said, citing as an example costs for fixing lights at the field house near Wilbur Cross High School, where the Board of Education has a $56,000 contract.
“Those are the types of things where if you hire one staff person to change lightbulbs and air filters at all the schools, you’re saving a lot of money,” Brokman said.
The Board of Education has a $425 million budget.