“Seize the day.” That was the message from our speaker, Mary Aicardi from the Collins Center for Public Management. During these difficult fiscal times, she said, there may be opportunities for language changes within contracts that may not be possible in better times. Ms. Aicardi cautioned, though, to beware of permitting language that erodes your management rights.
In addition, everyone on both sides of the negotiating table realizes that we are operating in very difficult fiscal times. This actually provides the opportunity to turn around some bad relationships. Being honest about the challenges you are dealing with is important in preserving or improving relationships.
Ms. Aicardi mentioned a couple of strategies she had seen used in recent agreements. One was to provide a COLA in the contract, but include five furlough days. The savings of one week of pay for each employee balanced the cost of the COLA. She has also seen COLAS given in exchange for cost-saving changes in health insurance plan design and the bargaining of the percentage share of increases in health insurance premiums.
Attendees also discussed cost-saving opportunities that would free up funding for contracts or avoid lay-offs. Many of the suggestions surrounded either combining services between town departments or sharing services with other towns. According to our speaker, sharing services and regionalization is definitely the wave of the future. Some of the suggestions are as follows:
- Consider outsourcing functions such as school lunch programs and custodial services.
- Merge Human Resource functions of the town and school side. This has the advantage of making sure that policies are consistent throughout the town.
- Gain efficiency by going from a weekly to bi-weekly payroll.
- Combine IT services and/or custodial services of town and school departments. Depending on the culture, proceeding slowly in this area may be the best approach.
- Adjust school start times to cut back on bussing.
- Partner with a collaborative to provide in-district SPED programs with the possibility of tuitioning students in.
- Partner with other towns on SPED transportation.
- Share Conservation, Board of Health and/or Inspectional services with other towns. Again, starting small may be the best approach.
- Consider offering an Employee Assistance Program, a low or no cost benefit for your employees.
If you have any additional ideas to share, please feel free to post them.
We would like to thank Mary Aicardi for sharing her evening with us and the Edward Collins Center for Public Management for providing a speaker for our program.