School Committee Again Rejects Fiorentini Plan for Joint School/City Maintenance Department

Mayor James J. Fiorentini during a June 11, 2019 City Council meeting. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Haverhill School Committee members last night again rejected the mayor’s proposal for a joint city and school maintenance department.

Mayor James J. Fiorentini said he gets the blame when school maintenance issues are reported, but he has no control under the current arrangement.

“I have a vested interest in this. Frankly, whenever a school roof leaks, somebody goes before the City Council and says ‘It’s the mayor’s fault the school roof is leaking.’ Whenever there is a window broken, somebody wants to go before the City Council. I’m looking in the back room, I remember a roof leaked at the Consentino School. It wasn’t the maintenance department that was called. It wasn’t the superintendent of schools. It was me. It was my job to fix the roof,” he said.

City councilors and some residents have blamed the mayor for not providing enough money to pay for maintenance and repairs or hiring enough workers.

Members voted 4-3 against the plan after hearing from Robin Haley, senior manager with the Matrix Consulting Group, who was hired to recommend improvements.

The best plan, he argued, calls for Haverhill to consolidate the city and school maintenance departments, which would be headed by a single maintenance director whose primary focus is preventive maintenance. He then outlined what he said was the best way the department should be manned. “Retain a contingent of in-house staff to respond to quick, low-skilled repairs with everything else being contracted out.”

He explained that Matrix’s study showed 56% of the jobs performed by the maintenance department over the past several years were small jobs requiring unskilled labor.

School Committee member Toni Sapienza-Donais said the study gave her no reason to support the proposal.

“I feel, honestly, that we have wasted a lot of time with this study. There was no out-of-the-box ideas in that study at all. No new way to handle it, not something that we missed, that we didn’t see and say, ‘Wow, that would be the way to handle it.’ Nothing came out of that study to show us anything else,” she explained.

Besides Donais, members Scott W. Wood Jr., Maura L. Ryan-Ciardiello and Gail M. Sullivan opposed a suggestion to send the mayor’s plea to the school Finance Subcommittee. School Committee Vice Chairman Richard J. Rosa and Finance Chairman Paul A. Magliocchetti backed the mayor in at least talking about the idea at the subcommittee.

The mayor repeated his previous argument that the head of a joint maintenance department should report to both the superintendent on school buildings and the mayor on city buildings such as City Hall and fire stations.

“So, if I’m going to get blamed for it—that’s fine. I’ve got big shoulders—I want to have some say in it or—it’s also fine—just put it out publicly that if a roof leaks, call the School Committee, call the superintendent. Don’t bug me,” he said.

Despite opposition from the majority of the School Committee, the mayor said he would make his pitch to the Joint Facilities Committee, which includes city councilors as well as School Committee members.

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