One vote down, two more to go.
Mayor Ted Bettencourt faced somewhat of an uphill battle Tuesday night in securing a unanimous vote from the School Committee to support his plan to consolidate city and school Human Resource departments.
Next, he needs two votes from the City Council on Thursday to sign off on the person he's hired for the job and to increase the salary. Earlier this month, Bettencourt announced he was hiring Karen Budrow, who was the Director of Human Resources and Administration in Chelsea, as the new HR Director for Peabody.
Bettencourt anticipates saving $70,000-$75,000 on salary and benefits by having only one director, whose salary would be increased from $83,000 to $97,000. The city and school sides of the budget would then equally share the costs of the consolidated office.
Bettencourt needed a vote from the School Committee first to relinquish control of the HR director's job from the School Department, although that's not exactly what he got. In the end, the committee agreed to suspend the search for a new HR director and review the new combined position at the end of the school year.
Committee members worried the combined workload would be too great for one person, wanted to ensure they would be asked to approve any future candidates for the job as well and an opportunity to review how well the consolidation worked before it became permanent.
Beverley Griffin Dunne admitted she was hesistant to say "yes" Tuesday night because she felt two full-time jobs were being combined and "nervous," in fact, because HR issues for school employees carry with them a specific grasp of school-related laws, and she wasn't sure Budrow would have that.
"I think she's going to have a big learning curve...because of the requirements on the schools," Dunne said. She was also concerned Budrow might not have as much time to focus on school recruitment fairs, which are important to the district.
At the same time, Dunne said, she did appreciate Bettencourt's efforts to streamline services, create efficiences and realize some savings, although she takes issue with the original study commissioned by the city that identified human resources as a good place to consolidate.
Dunne said the study didn't appear to truly consider the day-to-day duties needed for human resource functions throughout the city.
Dave McGeney likewise saw the job as having some "monumental" tasks, but said Bettencourt should have the opportunity to implement his leadership strategy as he sees fit. McGeney favored a sunset clause and review and added that he felt there would probably ultimately be a need to hire one more staff person, as an assistant, for the department.
Bettencourt said he would consider that if it became necessary, but otherwise, the only staffing changes that would occur as a result of the consolidation would be having one director -- two clerks would stay at each office and Budrow would likely maintain office hours at both City Hall and the Kiley School.
He reminded the committee of the aforementioned study completed last year, which looked at possible efficiencies and consolidation efforts throughout city government. One area identified as a potential for savings and efficiencies was human resources.
The timing is opportune as both HR director jobs at City Hall and the School Department are vacant, Bettencourt said.
"It is the right time to do this and I think we have the right person," he said.
Bettencourt said he was comfortable with Budrow in the expanded role because she does have experience handling school-related HR duties. In Chelsea, even though there was a separate school HR director, Budrow handled all union grievances, contract negotiations and benefits for both city and school employees.
"If I didn't have the right candidate now, I wouldn't do this," he said, adding that support from Superintendent Joe Mastrocola was also key in moving forward.
Mastrocola told the committee he was committed to this initiative and asked to look into that possibility right from the time he returned to Peabody take over as Superintendent of Schools.
Bettencourt, Mastrocola and committee members all agreed that now having an assistant superintendent in place also gave them much more confidence in eliminating the school position, which at times took on additional administrative duties.
At the outset of discussion Tuesday night, Bettencourt said he was agreeable to review the decision at the end of this school year. He said it was more of a "work in progress," which would likely evolve as Budrow assessed how to best perform her duties for both city and school employees.
"The last thing I want to do is hurt the school system, but I think this can work with the right person in place...and we will have to continually monitor this," said Bettencourt, adding that he would also be willing to return to having two HR directors if the joint office simply wasn't working.