School Board Asked to Reconsider Cenergistic Contract

January 30, 2015
 

by Barbara O’Brien

On Jan. 6, Windham School Board members heard a presentation by Cenergistic, an energy management company out of Dallas, Texas.  After listening to the proposal, the majority of school board members decided to approve moving forward with a five-year contract.  Controversy exploded on the issue, however, when school board Chairman Jerome Rekart denied several members of the public a chance to provide input.

The aggravation that was evident that evening certainly didn’t fade away when the meeting was adjourned.  Conversely, it returned full force, two weeks later, when the next school board meeting convened.  During the public input session of the Jan. 20 school board meeting, a substantial number of residents asked board members to reconsider their vote to partner with the Salem School District and Cenergistic.  The vote to approve the contract was 3 to 1 to 1.  Voting in favor were Chairman Rekart, Vice-Chairman Dennis Senibaldi and board member Michael Joanis.  Voting against implementing the agreement was board member Ken Eyring.  Board member Rob Breton abstained from voting.

Jerry Rufo, a member of the Citizens Facilities Committee, an entity established by the school board last spring, was one of the people denied permission to speak after the Cenergistic presentation.  “That night, I was absolutely speechless,” Rufo said when he took his turn at the podium on Jan. 20.  “I really hope the school board will reconsider its decision on Cenergistic,” he stated.  “I don’t want the school district to get stuck with a company that goes around putting out sticky notes, saying that the last person to leave should turn out the lights.”  Rufo, whose business experience includes many years as a facilities manager, said he could do a better job than Cenergistic and at no cost to the school district.

Daniel Popovici-Muller, currently a candidate for school board, said he found the Jan. 6 interaction “painful to watch.”  Popovici-Muller said he doesn’t feel that due diligence was done on the part of the school board or administrators who were recommending the contract with Cenergistic.  “What in God’s name was the hurry?” he wanted to know.  “Your job is to determine if Cenergistic’s services are worth $570,000, Popovici-Muller told the school board.  He, then, urged board members to put the issue “on the back burner” in order to take the time to make a more informed decision.  “We all make mistakes,” he added.  “We are judged by how we deal with them.”

Windham resident Bob Leonard, and experienced facilities manager, said he was “absolutely appalled” by what he witnessed at the prior school board meeting.  “I would have been fired if I’d made such a decision,” without having as much information as possible, he stated.  “It appears the school board is operating in a vacuum,” he continued.  “I believe they’d be happy if we all sat down and shut up.”

Resident Mary Lou Bartlett said she is tired of what she termed the school board’s “fast and furious spending.”

Resident Karl Dubay also asked the school board to reconsider the Cenergistic contract.  “Step back and take another look,” Dubay urged.

Resident Eileen Mashimo implored the school board to reconsider the Cenergistic contract.  Mashimo said she had contacted school administrators in the Midwest and been told they weren’t “very happy with the results” and questioned the validity of the company’s software program.

Rich Amari, another member of the Citizens Facilities Committee, told school administrators that “there are so many reasons to reconsider the Cenergistic contract.”  Referring to Rekart’s refusal to allow him to speak at the prior meeting, Amari explained, “We only wanted to save the school district nearly $600,000.  We only wanted to educate the school board, so you could make an informed decision.”

Fellow Citizens Facilities Committee member Tom Murray, who was also denied permission to speak prior to the school board’s vote to approve the contract, asked board members to “just give us a minute and we’ll show you the math” on how the Windham School District can become energy-efficient and save money without hiring Cenergistic.  “For me, it’s all about doing what’s best for the children in this school district,” Murray said.  “That’s why I’m so passionate!”  Murray also recently added his name to the list of candidates running for school board this year.

During the public comment period on Jan. 20, Superintendent Winfried Feneberg stated that the contract with Cenergistic, although approved by the majority of school board members two weeks earlier, had not yet been signed.  Feneberg said the contract was still under review.  A few days after that meeting, Feneberg said the contract with Cenergistic had still not been signed.  However, “the school board has voted on the contract, and there has been no change on that vote,” he explained.  “Legal counsel is providing additional information about questions board members had,” Feneberg said.  “I anticipate the contract will be signed in the near future.”

Business Administrator Adam Steel said he was “in the process of finalizing some details.”  When questioned about the process that was undertaken in regard to the Cenergistic contract, Steel said, “I can assure you that no laws were broken by the administration or the school board.”  Based on the minutes from the Jan. 6 meeting, the school board approved a motion by Mike Joanis to authorize the administration to enter into a contract with Cenergistic, Inc. for an energy conservation program for a period of five years at no net cost to the district, with the stipulation that it is in conjunction with the Salem School District.  The motion was seconded by school board Vice-Chairman Senibaldi.  “After the school board acts, my job is to work out the details of the contract between our attorney, our insurance provider, and the vendor,” Steel explained.  “That process is our typical routine for all contracts; one that we have followed for years.”

“Our attorney did not even receive the contract from me until the day after the board voted, as I do not typically expend school district funds on a legal review for a proposal that is not approved by the school board,” Steel stated.  “If we ran into issues in the negotiation process, clearly we would have to go back to the school board to tell them we could not come to an agreement, due to legal and/or insurance reasons,” Steel continued.  “In reading the draft contract proposal from Cenergistic, and in conversations with both Cenergistic and the Salem School District, I was not concerned about our likelihood at being successful in finalizing contract language.  I rely on our legal review to ensure we remain in compliance with all applicable laws.”

On Jan. 26, a week after the school board meeting, Eyring expressed his dissatisfaction with the manner in which the proposed contract had been handled, thus far.  “After many passionate requests were made by Windham residents, I’m disappointed that my fellow school board members would not reconsider their 3-1-1 decision that awarded a five-year, $577,000 no-bid contract to Cenergistic for “behavioral” training,” Eyring said.  “That ‘service’ falls within the scope of a facility manager’s responsibilities – someone who could provide so much more benefit to the district.”

Eyring also said, “I believe the money that will be paid to Cenergistic should have been utilized by investing in the built-in, energy conservation infrastructure upgrades that the facilities committee has been planning as part of its space solution.  The facilities committee’s solutions would provide real, significant energy savings for years to come and keep all of the savings in the district, where they could be redirected to the classroom and taxpayers.”

Comments were requested from Chairman Rekart, but he passed the responsibility to Vice-Chairman Senibaldi.  “Dennis has been handling the media re: the contract,” Rekart said.  Questions posed to Senibaldi received no response.