Report cites potential annual savings of $2.7 million

Trumbull could save as much as $2.7 million annually by implementing the recommendations contained in a new report by Gibson Consulting of Austin, Texas. The company presented its findings at a tri-board meeting of the Town Council, Board of Education and Board of Finance Thursday. Actually achieving that level of saving, though, would require extensive negotiations with town labor unions and a commitment to funding technology enhancements and more.

"The $2.7-million figure is optimistic, but I think it shows the areas we need to be looking at," said First Selectman Timothy Herbst Tuesday. "This report has demonstrated real efficiencies and savings that can be implemented without adversely impacting student and taxpayer needs."

According to the 79-page report's executive summary, Gibson staff analyzed records, staff charts and budget reports and conducted computer and equipment inventories and staff interviews. The report contains 26 specific recommendations aimed at reducing costs, eliminating redundancies between town and school budgets or increasing town revenue without raising taxes.

Both the town and school system underutilize information systems and rely on time- and paper-intensive manual processes, the report said. For example, payroll processing currently entails a five-step procedure in which an employee fills out a timesheet, a supervisor reviews and approves the hours and the timesheet information is manually entered into a payroll program that then either makes direct deposits into employee bank accounts or cuts a check that is manually distributed.

Under the proposed system, employees would scan their thumbprints when they arrive at work and the system would automatically calculate their hours and overtime, electronically submit their payroll information for approval and then upload the payroll for computer processing.

Gibson also recommended consolidating health care coverage between the town and school employees as a first step toward participating in a state partnership for health care coverage and phasing out cash payments for employees who opt not to participate in the town's health care plans. Currently the town spends about $20 million a year on health care coverage for its employees. Consolidation and ending cash payments could save about $1 million, Gibson estimated.

The report also recommended privatizing custodial service and upgrading the town's computers, many of which are between six and 10 years old.

On the positive side, the report praised the school system's food service plans, which it called efficient and well-run, though underpriced. Increasing the cost of school lunches in line with inflation would result in about $675,000 in increased revenue, which could offset the current general fund expenditures.

The report also cited the school Transportation Department. The department administers the school buses while outsourcing the actual bus service. Gibson recommended returning to the former policy of not busing students who live within one mile of the schools, a practice that could save $1.7 million over the next five years.

School Superintendent Ralph Iassogna said he thought most of the recommendations merited careful consideration should they prove financially feasible. Particularly, he cited upgrading technology and automated employee timekeeping systems, restructuring the transportation contract, moving to a state health care cooperative, and increasing school lunch prices.

He cautioned against wholesale acceptance of the recommendations, though. For example, he cited Gibson's recommendation to change the lunch schedules.

"The schedules revolve around the necessary instructional periods, not staff levels," he told the school board. Also, enforcing a one-mile walking radius around the schools would not save the system any money due to its current contract requirements. Closing a school is similarly out of the question since the town implemented full-day kindergarten this year, doubling the amount of space need for kindergarten classes.

Herbst said there were some obstacles to implementing the report's recommendations, such as the need to negotiate some issues with the town's unionized staff. Also, upgrading technology in the schools and town departments would be expensive, but would have a large payoff in efficiency, future savings and student education, he said.

"Governing is about prioritizing and when we determine what priorities make the most sense," he said. "I can think of no better investment than those tools that directly impact student learning and achievement."