Council offers school shared service ideas
PENN YAN—On Tuesday, Dec. 13, the Penn Yan, Dundee and Marcus Whitman school boards heard the results of a shared-services study conducted by the non-profit Western NY Educational Services Council (WNYESC) based in Buffalo. The purpose of the study was to look at the possibilities of services the three districts could share to save taxpayer money.
The study consisted of district site visits, analysis of the structure and budget of the districts, and conversations with school staff. Through this research, the council was able to get a sense of what would be the most efficient ways for the districts to share “back-office” functions. The study, which was approved last July by the three school boards, took place through early October. According to WNYESC Executive Bren Price, six or seven visits were made to each school district. After conducting the study, the council concluded that the three school districts should consider sharing a central business office (CBO), central bus maintenance program, informational technology (IT) services, and human resources (HR) department.
Price explained this is the first time that WNYESC has conducted a study involving shared services among three districts. He also mentioned that it would be too complicated to estimate an exact amount of how much money school districts could save with shared services. Further studies will have to be conducted and the schools will have to decide what they want to do before any of that is determined.
If the districts decide to pursue the shared services concept, they should do so through the Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES). Through BOCES, which provides aid in educational services to eligible schools within NY State, districts can be relieved of some of the financial burdens placed on local taxpayers. In order to qualify for aid through BOCES, the proposed program must be shared by at least two school districts and approved by the state’s education department. If a proposed program gets approved, the participating school districts will cover the costs of the program initially then BOCES will reimburse them for a percentage of those expenses at the end of each school year. Dr. Tom Ramming, one of the members of WNYESC who presented on the study, mentioned that the percentage varies depending on the program and the school districts involved.
There are 37 different branches of BOCES that serve 721 school districts in NY State. The Penn Yan, Dundee and Marcus Whitman schools would use the Wayne Finger Lakes BOCES based in Stanley. That branch serves school districts in Yates, Ontario, Wayne and Seneca Counties. All three school districts are eligible to receive BOCES aid.
Price also noted that the only cost for districts would be an administrative fee that would be paid to BOCES. While he could not give numbers on how much the fee is, Price did say it is less expensive if more districts are sharing the service.
The report from the council also addressed concerns about staffing positions getting cut through combining shared services. Ramming explained if certain positions were eliminated due to BOCES involvement, NY State Civil Service Law 70-2 would require BOCES to find new employment among their created positions for staff that got laid off.
Price explained that WNYESC is not affiliated with BOCES. However, the council does contact BOCES when coming up with recommendations for school districts. The council, which assists western NY schools in areas such as school staff searches and planning studies for school districts, makes recommendations on potential sharing among school districts.
Along with Price and Ramming, the other two members from the council who spoke at the meeting were Dr. Richard Hitzges and Dr. Susan Gray. All four speakers are retired school superintendents.
The WNYESC members also said that programs could be combined without the BOCES aid through a municipal services agreement. Combining food services and the sharing of a transportation supervisor were two examples of what would not generate a great deal of BOCES aid. It was suggested that in those cases, using the alternative method for combining the programs was the more sound idea.
The council did see some services that should not be shared among different districts. One example was the idea of sharing a special education director. As Gray explained, combining the service could be a problem if the appointed person had other duties, as well. The school district would have to find someone else to fill those obligations which could be an issue if they are unable to hire someone else.
Members of the WNYESC also advised against sharing a superintendent among the school districts. Price said that even though such an idea would be lawful, contractual issues such as the process for hiring staff members and time spent in each district could pose concerns.
After the meeting, Penn Yan School Superintendent David Hamilton explained that the report from the council presents a new idea new to the three school districts so a lot needs to be looked over before any decisions are considered. “I’m still processing it,” the superintendent said. “There is a lot of information in the report that we still need to look through and digest before making any decisions.”