The state inspector general’s office has recommended that Newton seek competitive bids from organizations to run a proposed naming rights campaign for its high school buildings, according to state and city officials.
The turn took the Newton Schools Foundation, which designed the campaign, aback. The foundation had received the School Committee’s approval to launch the fund-raising effort for school technology, but now it may have to submit a bid for the work.
“We’re going to obviously comply with that,” said Rick Iacobucci, the foundation’s executive director. “It just seems like an unnecessary step.”
The foundation has proposed selling the naming rights to school spaces — such as athletic fields, science labs, and classrooms — to raise as much as $6 million in three years for technology infrastructure and training.
The plan has the support of School Committee members and several aldermen who have argued that it would help outfit Newton’s schools with much-needed but expensive equipment.
The Newton Schools Foundation hopes to raise as much as $6 million in three years for school technology and training.
But some aldermen and residents have questioned whether putting the names of high-dollar donors on public school facilities is appropriate and whether the foundation is best equipped for such a campaign.
The city asked the inspector general for an opinion on whether the fund-raising work fell under the state’s procurement requirements. After discussions over two weeks, the inspector general’s office gave its recommendation over the phone to Newton’s law department, said Ouida Young, the city’s associate solicitor.
It was the first time the inspector general has been asked to weigh in on a naming rights campaign and gave its advice out of an “abundance of caution,” said Barbara Hansberry, the general counsel for the inspector general.
Going through a bid process would “stave off any criticism they would get for their innovative idea,” Hansberry said in an interview Friday. “We think it will be easily accomplished.”
The schools foundation probably will be the strongest candidate and the only one interested to run this campaign, she said.
But the work of the campaign could be considered a service, since the foundation will be compensated for it, Hansberry said.
Under the proposal, a portion of the money raised by selling the naming rights would pay for administrative and other expenses incurred by the Newton Schools Foundation for the campaign, including printing, advertising, and a portion of staff salaries. The foundation anticipates that the cost will be about $320,000 over three years. In addition, two fund-raising specialists will donate their time to the effort.
If the foundation wants to pay for the costs on its own or through other fund-raising efforts, a public bid process would be unnecessary, said Young, the city’s associate solicitor.
“The whole thing turns on whether there is a contract for services,” Young said.
Before seeking bids for the campaign, Newton’s aldermen will have to decide whether they want to set up a revolving fund for the money raised, Young said.
That issue is in front of the city’s Programs and Services Committee and is scheduled to be debated again later this month.
Some aldermen have also recently proposed a specific policy for selling naming rights to city property. That proposal needs more study and legal review, Young said.
Iacobucci said the foundation hopes that these wrinkles will not delay the launch of the fund-raising effort for the school naming rights proposal. The foundation hoped to start actively campaigning this fall.
Iacobucci said the foundation is best equipped to run the naming rights campaign. The costs of hiring a fund-raising company for the campaign would be significantly higher, Iacobucci said. And the foundation’s nonprofit status allows donors to claim a charitable donation for tax purposes, he said.
“We’re hoping that they move on it quickly and nobody is dragging their feet,” he said.
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