SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Marc Gousse, superintendent of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System, wants to explore with area towns the possibility of sharing some functions and personnel in order to increase efficiency and save money.
Two areas of possible cooperation that he discussed with members of the Acadia-area League of Towns board at their meeting on Tuesday were human resources and technology support.
Gousse noted that the MDI-area schools have more than 300 employees but no one responsible solely for human resources. As a result, he said, basic human resources functions are carried out by the school system’s business office or by various administrators.
“But I don’t have any formal training in human resources, so if I can’t answer a question, we pick up the phone and call legal if we have to,” he said. “So I’m wondering if there would be any benefit to look at [sharing] HR services. Sometimes it’s advantageous to invest in those resources so we’re not spending money down the road on workers’ comp claims and those types of things.
“I also think there’s a huge opportunity to do a lot of training and professional development with onboarding people, with safety training,” Gousse said. “These are needs I’ve identified within the schools and I would be curious to see if you have similar needs that we might want to explore.”
Mount Desert Town Manager Durlin Lunt said his town spends a lot of money on legal services related to human resources issues “because the laws are complicated and [the issues] are omnipresent.”
“The way we’re doing business now is not inexpensive by any means. The cost savings [of sharing an HR professional] would certainly be icing on the cake. But having better HR, that is the cake.”
He said that in Mount Desert, as in many small towns, human resources is relegated to “a tertiary responsibility.”
“You have two other jobs ahead of it, and it’s very hard to keep up.”
Gousse suggested that the schools might pilot a sharing arrangement with one or two towns to see how it works.
Bar Harbor Town Manager Cornell Knight suggested that the schools and towns might hire a consultant to develop a plan for sharing personnel.
“None of us has the time to work out the details of how a joint HR could work,” he said.
Both he and Lunt said they had some money they could use to pay a consultant. And Gousse said he would talk with the school system board about “any monies we could contribute to some sort of exploratory piece that we might want to consider.”
Acknowledging that some people are skeptical of the schools spending money on a new position or program, he said, “You have to weigh the money we’re spending presently and how that can potentially be reduced.”
Gousse and Tremont Town Manager Chris Saunders said that sharing technology support services might be relatively easy to arrange. Saunders said he would be interested in exploring the possibility of paying Tremont Consolidated School for a certain amount of technology support each month.
Gousse said he would be open to discussing that and that he wants to follow up with Knight, Lunt and any other town administrators who are interested about opportunities for collaboration.
Noting that school costs are a major portion of all the town budgets, Gousse said, “I’m struck by the fact that we are blessed with our resources. But they are not unlimited, and I see that. Costs are rising and people are asking questions, as they should.
“It’s my responsibility to do what’s best for our kids and schools, but I have an equal responsibility to do what’s best for the communities’ citizens and taxpayers.”