City Pays Haverhill School Report Author to Consult; Wood Questions Objectivity, Process

(File photograph.)

A contributor to Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials’ recent report on Haverhill schools was paid to help resolve problems identified in the report and has submitted a proposal to receive up to $49,000 for more work. (File photograph.)

UPDATE: This story now reflects a comment from MASBO Executive Director Margaret Driscoll.

One of the authors of a recent review critical of Haverhill schools was working last week in City Hall to help solve problems cited in the same report.

Mary C. DeLai gave advice on how to revise district spending plans under the umbrella of her own firm, District Resources Group of Newburyport, according to school Superintendent Margaret Marotta. DeLai is also a candidate for another project related to the report by Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials. School Committee member Scott W. Wood Jr., however, questions the report’s impartiality when one of its authors is looking to work on the very issues she helped identify.

School Committeeman Scott W. Wood Jr.

“It definitely doesn’t pass the smell test. It calls in question the objectivity of the report whether there were motives to write the report the way she did,” Wood told WHAV.

DeLai is also one of two to respond to the school department’s two-week old request for help putting MASBO’s recommendations to work. In making the request for quotations, the school department asked for help improving “efficiency and effectiveness in the business and operational services departments.” DeLai proposed charging $125 per hour up to a total of $49,000 for an average of 14 hours weekly through next June.

An Auburn company called The Management Solution, headed by Andrew W. Paquette, also proposed charging $125 per hour, but did not mention how much time the firm would need. Marotta told WHAV she hasn’t decided which, if either, of the firms will be retained.

School Committee Vice Chairman Paul A. Magliocchetti praised the superintendent’s request for consultants and said he sees no conflict. “(DeLai) raised significant issues about how the business department was being run. There’s only a certain number of persons who are qualified to do what she is doing.”

In a Nov. 19 response to the help request, DeLai acknowledged her role in serving as a member of the MASBO District Operations Review Team, but suggested it is to the schools’ benefit. “I am intimately aware of the findings and recommendations,” she wrote.

Wood said he is also concerned payments for outside consultants should be approved in advance by the School Committee. “The School Committee is in charge of the budget. Where are they funding it from? Which line item in the budget? We haven’t approved these positions,” he said.

Haverhill School Superintendent Margaret Marotta. (WHAV News photograph.)

Marotta said Delai’s most recent consulting time amounted to only a few hundred dollars. “The schools hire consultants all the time,” she told WHAV.

DeLai, who served as Wilmington’s school superintendent for more than two years until the fall of 2016, was among three MASBO authors who cited “very serious challenges” for the school system.

Margaret Driscoll, the executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials, said MASBO regularly hires outside consultants to assemble review teams like the one DeLai sat on.

The MASBO report led city councilors to retroactively approve a contract Oct. 30 with the schools’ food service provider, Whitsons. The review noted contracts longer than three years must be approved by the City Council. Other suggestions were the schools only create or adjust jobs with proper approval; provide professional development, coaching or mentoring support to the business manager; pay vendor bills faster than the current average of 45 to 60 days; redirect money for some paraprofessional staffing toward hiring more licensed special education staff; consider whether bringing some custodial services back in-house would save money; adopt a capital improvement plan; and increase the size of the maintenance department. On the latter suggestion, the report said, “typical maintenance departments would have twice the number of licensed maintenance workers as is currently employed.”