Shared services option for BKW worries facilities supervisor

BERNE — A list of possible money-making measures at the superintendent’s Feb. 24 budget presentation will include Berne-Knox-Westerlo sharing an operations and maintenance supervisor with the Greenville Central School District.

A change in Civil Service classification for the department’s head, though, could mean the current building maintenance supervisor, Pete Shunney, would no longer oversee the department. A letter written to the Enterprise editor this week protests the measure, citing Shunney’s stewardship of the district’s operations.

Interim Superintendent Lonnie Palmer joined the district for one year starting last summer and has in the months since freed up money for investing in the school’s academic programs in the 2014-15 budget. To do so, he has consolidated the district’s non-teaching expenses, including reducing bus runs and teaching support staff. A shared food -services supervisor with Greenville has worked well in its first year, he said, and the two districts are looking for more potential savings.

Palmer says nearly $600,000 has been freed so far for the 2014-15 budget process, to ultimately be decided by the school board, and another $100,000 to $300,000 could be saved with further changes.

The shared maintenance supervisor would bring into the district approximately $30,000 each year, Palmer said, and would not affect the department’s other employees or end Shunney’s employment. Shunney has worked at BKW for 11-and-a-half years and said he currently oversees nine employees, including facilities employees and custodians.

Vasilios Lefkaditis, vice president of the school board, announced at a recent meeting that rumors about outsourcing the BKW maintenance and transportation staff were untrue.

The school board would have to approve any shared services agreement.

Palmer said the plan with Greenville hasn’t been finalized and depends on a maintenance employee retirement at Greenville. He said which Civil Service rules apply to the cross-county agreement still have to be identified.

The shared supervisor would have time scheduled at each district throughout the week and a secondary employee would be paid a stipend to oversee operations when the supervisor is not in the district.

Shunney would be eligible to work as a standard maintenance employee. Palmer said Shunney’s experience would be valuable, but he would earn almost $20,000 less than his current annual pay.

The new position would have the Civil Service classification of “director of facilities III,” which would require Shunney to take an exam, have a four-year engineering degree, and take on new responsibilities. Palmer said the added duties would be supervising and evaluating other employees.

Palmer said Shunney was asked and wasn’t interested in the potential new role.

Shunney noted that he would have to be qualified to take the necessary test.

“I don’t have an engineering degree at all. So, in order for me to take that test, I would have to go to college for four years. I’m 56 years old, so, when I graduated, I’d be 60. So there’d really be no point in me doing that.”

Asked if the shared supervisor’s role could be designed to fit with Shunney’s classification, Palmer said, “According to the attorneys on our side, no.”

“They’re also a small district,” Shunney said of Greenville. “I’m not sure we need somebody that sits behind a desk all day. It’s just a different philosophy than we’ve had at Berne and at Greenville in the past.”

The Schoharie and BKW districts split a transportation director, beginning in 2011 and ending when the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles fined BKW for 194 violations of state law last year, a month before Palmer took the job. Records for bus drivers were incomplete, inaccurate, or late.

“Apparently, it was too much, trying to do two districts at once,” Palmer said last summer of the shared transportation director’s duties. “The supervisor couldn’t keep up, so, when the DMV people came in and started checking the records, especially with drivers who didn’t work here, and with things being done late, it didn’t look right.”

With BKW’s shared food services and maintenance supervisors with Greenville, Palmer is confident that the size and complexity of the jobs are less than in transportation.

“We have a very experienced, effective director here, who knows her business and is well respected and who has impressed us,” Palmer said this week of Deborah Rosko, BKW’s food services director who now spends a day-and-a-half per week supervising in Greenville.

Shunney said he has been a maintenance supervisor for 25 years and passed the civil service exam for building maintenance supervisor, as well as the classification, superintendent of buildings, grounds, and equipment. Describing his duties, he said he currently oversees the maintenance department and its contracts and is the district’s water-treatment officer. Shunney is able to make repairs himself.

“My concern is that, if we lose this connection that we have, having people who are hands-on, they’ll contract more work and that’ll be more expensive. We have to pay prevailing wage at school,” said Shunney.

Palmer said he doesn’t anticipate that happening; an assistant currently on staff and able to oversee operations in the supervisor’s absence would have to be identified.

The shared supervisor with Greenville is one among other ideas Palmer said he will be mentioning on a single slide at his budget presentation on Monday. He would like to continue to investigate reductions to bus runs and siting special education classes at BKW, which could be offered to surrounding districts and reduce the use of Board of Cooperative Educational Services classes in Albany.

“We think we might be able to do it cheaper here, and I have some other superintendents who might have an interest in that,” said Palmer.

Greenville has already saved money by using BOCES employees in its business office, Palmer said, and BKW could look to do the same.

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