School board expresses need for more personnel in human resources

School board expresses need for more personnel in human resources

SMITHFIELD - The issue did not receive a lot of attention, but School Committee Chairman Richard B. Iannitelli called the district's lack of human resources personnel the "biggest weakness" revealed by the 2013 performance audit.

"We have 300-plus employees," Iannitelli said. "We need to get a handle on this."

Iannitelli's comments came at the School Committee meeting May 5 when members discussed the status of the 86-page performance audit, released in November and done by B&E Consulting LLC of Providence at a cost of $43,560.

The performance audit contains dozens of recommendations to fine-tune school operations, while generally giving the district and especially its administrators glowing reviews. Consultants said the Smithfield school system is one of the best they've reviewed and is in "excellent financial shape."

Noting that federal and state laws relating to human resources and employment are constantly changing, the performance audit said someone in the school system should be reviewing new laws and revisions to existing laws on a regular basis. Changes and additions to HR laws should be recorded in a book, the audit said, that district managers can refer to for the latest legal information.

Now, "no one person (in the school system) is responsible for keeping up on changes with (human resources) laws," the audit said. "Significant laws like ACA (the Affordable Care Act) are unlikely to be missed, but some less advertised laws might slip through the cracks." Confidentiality of certain information also could be at risk, consultants suggested.

"Over the next few months," Supt. Robert M. O'Brien said, he will be reviewing staff duties to identify employees with the time to take on this new duty. "With different personnel handling different (HR) duties, it's easy for something to be overlooked," O'Brien agreed. School Committeewoman Kellie-Ann Heenan suggested an electronic book of HR laws because it would be easier to update than a paper book. "We can certainly do that," said Paul Barrette, technology director.

Iannitelli said he intends to appoint a committee to work on this issue. Committeeman Brenden T. Oates volunteered to be on it, while Committeewoman Virginia G. Harnois said the school board's attorney, Benjamin M. Scungio, should be included.

Heenan suggested the town's human resources administrator be consulted. "We should leverage the expertise the town has in human resources," she said. The administrator, according to the town website, is Susan Pilkington.

The idea of combining human resource duties for the town and the school system has been raised, but School Committee members, without providing any details, indicated at the May 5 meeting that such discussions have not proven fruitful.

The School Committee began considering the recommendations of the performance audit in January, taking one or two suggestions at each meeting. Some recommendations were adopted, such as starting budget preparation work several weeks later than in the past when fiscal estimates are more accurate. Some were rejected or not possible, and still others are being worked on, such as preparation of a policy manual and more efficient class scheduling at the high school.

Iannitelli said the School Committee has now gone over every recommendation in the performance audit and a list will be compiled on the status of each.

In other business, the committee:

* Learned from O'Brien that Robin Behringer, an English teacher at the middle school, is one of three finalists for Rhode Island Teacher of the Year. The winner will be announced in June.

* Heard that the high school chorus finished first in a national music contest in Florida and the band finished second. "They will perform at our next School Committee meeting (May 19) and will bring the giant trophies they brought back on the plane," O'Brien said.

* In another competition, learned from O'Brien that the Smithfield High School team finished second in the Science Olympiad and middle school students finished fifth.

* Awarded a contract for $43,470 to Torrado Architects for an architectural feasibility study of the need for new roofs on several buildings, newly required by the state Department of Education for any capital improvements at schools. Six bids were received and Torrado, a Providence firm, was the lowest qualified bidder, O'Brien said.

* Learned that the Town Council will conduct a budget hearing Tuesday, May 13, at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium.