The state inspector general’s office has recommended that Newton seek competitive bids from organizations to run the naming rights campaign for its high school buildings, according to state and city officials.
The news caught the Newton Schools Foundation, which designed the campaign and had already received the School Committee’s approval to launch the school technology fund-raising effort, by surprise.
“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. But some aldermen and residents have questioned whether putting the names of high-dollar donors on public school facilities is appropriate and if the foundation is best equipped for such a campaign.
The city asked the inspector general for an opinion on whether the campaign 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.
This is the first time that 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 office.
Going through a bid process would “stave off any criticism they would get for their innovative idea,” Hansberry said in an interview with the Globe on Friday. “We think it will be easily accomplished.”
It is likely that the schools foundation will be the only interested and strongest candidate 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 School 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 fundraising specialists will donate their time to the effort.
If the foundation wants to pay for the costs on its own or though other fundraising 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 first decide whether they want to set up a revolving account for the fundraising money, 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 policy for selling naming rights to city property. That proposal still needs more study and legal review, Young said.
Iacobucci said the foundation hopes that these new wrinkles don’t delay the launch of the fundraising effort. 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 fundraising company for the campaign are significantly higher, Iacobucci said.
And the foundation's non-profit status also allows donors to claim a charitable donation for tax purposes, he said.
“We’re hoping that they move it on quickly and nobody is dragging their feet,” Iacobucci said.
Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at email@example.com