Schools could save by sharing

Gwen Chamberlain

Employees from Penn Yan, Marcus Whitman and Dundee School district listened intently Dec. 13 as members of each of the district’s school boards heard a report addressing ways the three districts could share services or collaborate to save money.

Their recommendations included finding efficiencies through sharing services in business office, transportation, food service, information technology, human resources and special education.

None of the boards took action on the report, which took five months to complete.

Penn Yan Board of Education President Jeff Morehouse said all the board members and administrators need time to review the detailed report. In the next step, the superintendents of the districts will meet to prioritize recommendations and report to their respective boards before the entire group meets again.

The Shared Services Study was completed and presented by the Western New York Study Council, education professionals who assist public schools with various studies and projects, such as administrative searches.

In most areas, the consultants advised board members that savings could be realized by either using BOCES services or entering into a cooperative municipal agreement between districts.

Using BOCES services, in most cases, would bring the added benefit of additional state aid.

Here are some of the ideas they shared:

• CENTRAL BUSINESS OFFICE: Functions such as accounting, payroll, general ledger, purchasing, internal audit and claims audits could be centralized with BOCES staff doing most of the work. This move would likely put some district employees out of work, but they might qualify for jobs through BOCES, according to Richard Hitzges.

• TRANSPORTATION: Hitzges said it might be feasible for Penn Yan and Dundee to establish one central bus maintenance facility. He noted both school districts will soon need to initiate some kind of building project to improve their facilities. “Would it be better to share a facility?” he asked, but added the opportunity for additional aid would be minimal.

Another transportation option could be for two of the districts to share a transportation director. Hitzges said two Erie County districts that share a common border have such an arrangement. The transportation director is employed by one district and contracted to the other.

• FOOD SERVICE: A similar sharing of the food service director might be feasible.

• INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY: Thomas Ramming recommended the districts share more technology services under the BOCES umbrella. He said Marcus Whitman already does so, but Penn Yan and Dundee don’t. He said the three districts could share one IT director or one technician.

• SPECIAL EDUCATION: While Susan Gray recommended the districts maintain their current special education configuration, she said the schools might benefit by sharing management systems. She noted while there is a possibility of sharing a director, some functions would then be passed off to other administrators. She also noted there is no possibility of sharing clerical staff.

• SUPERINTENDENT: While it was not one of the areas the team was asked to study, they did comment that there had been some interest by the school boards in exploring sharing a superintendent of schools between two or more districts.

 The team feels it’s a good area to explore, but while it appears to be a very simple option, it can become complicated by several issues.