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City, Schools Reexamine Consolidation

Health Department nurses among those who could be on the move.

With another tight budget on the horizon for fiscal year 2012, the city and school department are once again beginning to examine the possibility of consolidating services between the two sides of the yearly spending plan.

Mayor Michael Bonfanti proposed a series of consolidation options to the School Committee Tuesday night, among them the transfer of school nurses out of City Hall and back to the School Department and the addition of a consolidated facilities manager, who would oversee renovations and general maintenance at all of the city’s school buildings.

Many  of the ideas brought forward by Bonfanti have been addressed in the past, and the mayor said all of the ideas are preliminary at this stage.

“We didn’t make any formal proposals, but obviously at this point consolidation between the two departments is something that we are looking at strongly,” he said. “So we figured we would bring everything forward at once and discuss it. Other communities like Danvers and Gloucester have been the prime at this sort of thing in recent years, so we contacted them for some information about what they have done and we just presented it at the meeting as a discussion point.”

Moving the school nurses from the Health Department to the School Department is a transfer that has the support of both sides, and would actually be restoring the budget line item back to the way it was before proposition two and a half in the mid-1990s.

“Historically here and in a lot of other communities that was the way it was always done,” said Superintendent C. Milton Burnett. “We absolutely support bringing the nurses back to our side. I think it creates more familiarity and efficiency.”
 
As it stands now, school nurses are based out of the Health Department in City Hall and are a part of the city budget. In the past, union and salary issues have prevented the School Committee from approving such a transfer, but recent change in salary structure have made that problem a non issue.

The city employs 11 full-time nurses as well as several part-time employees.

“The Board of Health supports this proposal because they believe that the efficiencies in administrative control and communication that would result from transferring school nurses to the School Department will ensure better care for Peabody schoolchildren and better integration of medical resources into School Department priorities and needs,” said Health Director Sharon Cameron.

By adding a facilities manager to the schools, Bonfanti hopes to consolidate the responsibilities of several people in City Hall to one employee. In looking at similar positions in the town of Danvers, the facilities manager oversees all of the maintenance and repair of school buildings as well as hiring and personnel responsibilities.

Bonfanti stressed that all of these plans are preliminary at this point, and he intends on bringing the entire package of proposals to the city council in the near future.

“We just wanted to put everything on the table,” he said. “If we are going to talk consolidation, we should being everything to the table, bring it before the council members and see what we are able to do.”

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