Editorial submitted by Linda Salafia, former City Councilwoman.
There is a workshop scheduled for Monday at 5:30 concerning the sharing of services between the City and the BOE. Seems to me that under Mayor Giuliano’s administration that this question was raised about combining services and was summarily dismissed. Part of the history of the famous or infamous lawsuit brought by the BOE against the City (yes, the BOE filed the lawsuit) was a direct result of the BOE wanting to maintain complete autonomy from the City. Now it seems like it’s a good idea. In all honesty, I don’t know if it’s going to be a cost saving measure any more or not.
Background: I worked for the City for 25 years in various positions; I held various union positions over those years; and I sat on the CC for one term. In my work capacity, I handled the payroll for the City side. Way back, the City and BOE financial activities used the same program purchased as a package but then modified over the years by in-house programmers to meet the needs of each office. However, the problem lies in that only the programmers who wrote the programs can really fix or handle any issues that may arise; not a good situation to be in. Several years ago the City purchased a new financial software program and went through the painful process of switching over. This means that the City Finance is no longer tied to it’s own programmers but is now tied to the company’s programmers. It seems to have worked although there are limitations as with any program; you get what you pay for but as they get requests for new things, new things get developed. This was very expensive undertaking and requires a continued relationship with the software developers.
The BOE continued with their “old” program but remember that the BOE is only one line in the City’s budget. Also, the payroll process was not switched over. Background: The City pays it’s employees (everyone including the Police and Fire) while the BOE pays those that work on that side including the certified and classified employees. Without going into a long dissertation, the financial program that the City had choosen for it’s new financial package could not handle the City’s payroll. It was actually designed for board of educations that pay people on a different schedule and on a set scale (overtime and the FLSA rules wrecked havoc with it). Also, the City maintains and administers it’s own pension system and therefore needs to have access to complete payroll histories which is not the same process as when pensions are handled by other entities (there you send off the info each month and are done with it, not so for the City where you actually print checks to your retirees).
Now I am thinking that the workshop scheduled for Monday is going to be used to present the benefits of again changing the financial accounting program to again another program. This is probably going to sound wonderful; however, I have reservations. First it’s going to be a very tedious and frustrating to do: every number is going to have to be examined and switched over to the new system, costly and time consuming. Secondly, have the users really been given a chance to weigh in on the new program; unless you are doing the work, you really don’t understand what it involved. Third, is it really worth spending the money now? Would it be better to change the BOE over to the system that the City is using instead? Why must the City change again? What exactly are we trying to accomplish with this change? What are the options?
The City’s budget has to be approved by May 15th. To be frank, I have a ton of questions about it and especially the BOE’s budget. I know from past experience that the BOE had it’s own way of doing things (hence the infamous/famous lawsuit) and now is trying (I think / hope) to change it’s methods but it’s going to take time. However, my gut reaction is to correct past mistakes first before venturing into new territory such as shared services and changing the financial programming.
Of course, since I’m out of the loop these days (ie not on the Common Council or in the union anymore) maybe shared services means canceling the Sodecxo contract and merging with Public Works to maintain the BOE schools and facilities. Considering that technically the City owns the buildings and is responsible for capital projects (BOE is responsible for education and operating expenses), that might be a great idea.