Bump rejects Holyoke CC bookstore privatization

College says decision will have big financial impact

STATE AUDITOR SUZANNE BUMP rejected an attempt by Holyoke Community College to privatize some of its bookstore operations, saying the school had failed to comply with a number of provisions of a state law placing restrictions on such initiatives. 

In a letter to the college dated August 2 but released on Wednesday, Bump’s office said the school’s application failed to address minimum wage and employee health insurance requirements and did not comply with a requirement to offer jobs with the private operator to qualified existing employees. 

William Fogarty, vice president for administration and finance at Holyoke, said the school didn’t think the language Bump called for was necessary and added that the college bookstore had no remaining employees (three retired and a fourth was transferred to another department) so the job offer requirement was moot.  

Fogarty said the school will resubmit its application with the requested information, but, with school set to start after Labor Day, will now have to get a bookstore up and running on its own. He said the school will need to hire a manager, add employees, and purchase inventory. 

“It’s going to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said of the cost. But Fogarty indicated the financial impact would be even larger because the top bidder for the bookstore contract had offered the school a guaranteed commission of $150,000. 

“At a time when colleges and universities are struggling to reduce the cost of higher education, we are disappointed by the State Auditor’s decision,” Fogarty said. 

Holyoke put out a request for proposals in January after the college’s bookstore operations suffered a loss of $150,000 last year. The RFP allowed companies to bid on multiple aspects of bookstore operations. Fogarty said two companies were finalists for the bid, but he declined to name them. 

The Baker administration’s executive office for administration and finance certified the Holyoke proposal as complying with all of the provisions of the state’s privatization law, which is popularly known as the Pacheco law because it was sponsored by state Sen. Marc Pacheco of Taunton. A spokeswoman for administration and finance declined to comment on Bump’s ruling. 

The Baker administration and the Pacheco law have a bumpy relationship. When the T shut down during the winter of 2015, Baker pushed for and won a three-year reprieve from the law for the T. The governor did not push for an extension of that reprieve when it expired. 

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Holyoke is the state’s last community college to privatize its bookstore operations. Since 2014, Bump has approved bookstore privatization proposals from UMass Dartmouth and Quinsigamond, North Shore, and Massasoit community colleges.