District office move could save money for schools, city

By TOM TIGANI
Sunday Times Newspapers

SOUTHGATE — A long-standing cordial relationship between two governmental entities could find them under the same roof before too long.

Mayor Joseph Kuspa began meeting for the last month with Southgate Community School District Supt. David Peden and Board of Education President Edward Gawlik to discuss the possibility of moving district central office employees into City Hall, 14400 Dix-Toledo. Those discussions will be expanded to City Council and board members at the two groups’ annual joint meeting Feb. 9.

Kuspa, whose political stops include a stint on the school board, said the two entities have a history of sharing athletic fields and gymnasiums, and noted that the board has held its meetings in the council chambers for the last few years. And with the recent move of Recreation Department offices out of City Hall and into the civic center and subsequent vacant office space, “the logic to me was to enhance the relationship,” he said.

“We have a very simliar taxpayer base,” Kuspa said, noting that the district includes part of Allen Park. “There’s a real logic to doing things together wherever we can.

“It’s a natural progression to have us housed in the same facility.”

Kuspa said while he’s by no means the first to conceive of or advocate cooperation between the city and the district — the two bodies have been working on plans for a joint telephone system since last year, for example — he doesn’t mind being thought of as the one to “aggressively pursue this, put the wheels in motion and make it happen.”

The city is looking at a budget deficit of $1.6 million in 2010-11, while the district is facing a $750,000 deficit in the current fiscal year and could be looking at a $2.25 million shortfall in its estimated $47 million 2010-11 budget.

Peden said the story isn’t quite as big as it seems at first, however. Moving today wouldn’t help “the mess we’re in now,” he said, and the district still has a lease at its current Reeck Road headquarters until 2012. Though the $105,000 annual cost for maintenance and rent is a much better deal than the district was paying for to keep up its old headquarters, Kuspa and Peden agree that moving into City Hall would be even less expensive, though neither would speculate on a dollar figure for the savings at this point.

“We wish that space would have been available three years ago,” Peden said, “but they weren’t ready then.”

He downplayed the current discussions because neither party is in the position to make a move now. “It’ll be a bigger story in a year and a half,” he said.

Board members have expressed some interest in the idea, which he expects will be the No. 1 topic at the upcoming joint meeting. And while they don’t exactly qualify as formal plans, city administration has had some preliminary drawings of possible space configurations to accommodate the 12 district employees who could be making the move. The drawings have been given to district officials and the board for review.

Kuspa said such a move would “open the door to a lot of possibilities”, including streamlining duties common to the city and district into single employees. He said nothing specific in that regard has been discussed, however, and noted that any such change would require the involvement of employee unions.

“We’re not out to diminish their purpose or eliminate or usurp any of each other’ exclusive purposes,” Kuspa said. “But once we’re in the same facility, then it makes sense to investigate the possibilities.”

Peden declined to speculate on any possible duty consolidations. Both leaders agree, however, that the office move could be a mutually beneficial arrangement.

“We share a lot of services,” Kuspa said. “The net effect will be a savings for the taxpayer.”