County school districts look at each other for cost sharing ideas
by Dennis Sharkey
As the county’s six school districts continue to seek ways to tighten their budgets without affecting students, they’re increasing looking to each other for ideas.
After three to four years of cutting budgets, administrators are having a hard time finding more areas to cut from. Now school administrators are looking for ways they can share resources with neighbors.
Jefferson West USD 340 and Perry-Lecompton USD 343 were to meet Friday to discuss collaboration efforts and Oskaloosa is looking at sharing some mechanical services with Jefferson County North USD 339.
Some districts are also looking outside the county. Last year McLouth USD 342 entered an agreement with Pleasant Ridge school district to share mechanical services.
Keystone Director Dr. Tim Marshall is still serving as part-time superintendent for JCN and meets with county superintendents at least once a month to discuss issues. Marshall said the cooperation he is seeing is unprecedented.
“There’s a lot of will out there among the districts to share resources,” Marshall said. “You have a group of superintendents working together about as well as I’ve ever seen them work together.”
Last week Oskaloosa USD 341 board listened to a proposal from the mechanic who services JCN’s bus fleet. At the Keystone meeting last week the respective board members discussed the issue even further.
“Those two or three district talks are probably the way to go,” Marshall said.
Last month Marshall handed out a list of things that have been discussed the last several months among superintendents to help guide cost saving moves that include sharing resources.
The top item on the list is getting each district to operate on a common school calendar. They feel schedules need to be as close together as possible for sharing resources to work.
Sharing transportation routes for special education could be considered. Administrators want to see if bus routes can be arranged among districts to be more efficient.
The superintendents have also discussed pooling of resources such as insurance and benefits or sharing contracted services.
Other suggestions included non-location specific services, substitute teachers contacts and software integration.
Marshall said Keystone may even look at sharing resources with another consortium such as training for staff. He said talks with another cooperative in Topeka have occurred.
“Maybe the next step is we start sharing services with other service centers,” Marshall said.
In other Keystone actions:
The board discussed carry-over reserve funds that are used to fund the organization the first quarter of the year. Typically Keystone has been carrying between 20 and 30 percent carry-over each year.
Marshall pointed out that the district could drop carry-over funds down to 10 percent, however, it would probably require Keystone to ask districts for second and third quarter assessments early.
“Financially that would keep me awake at night,” he said. “As districts we’ve been relying on whether or not the state is going to pay on time. As a service center we’re in the same spot.”
A carry-over of 10 percent would be about $670,000. Marshall said during the school year it costs about $650,000 to operate and doesn’t think Keystone can operate until October with only 10 percent.
Another factor is trying to predict what the state legislature and the governor are going to do.
“What I’m trying to do is find that middle ground that we may not have put out there in front of you before,” Marshall said. “I think I’m pretty safe with these numbers but I’m not holding all my cards.”
Marshall said the board does need to scrutinize the budget because of the economic conditions.
“That carry-over pile is getting big,” he said. “When cuts come we have something to operate with.”
It also appears that cuts to special education will not be coming this year. Marshall said that Keystone cannot lower assessments to districts because they would be penalized because they would bring in less resources. However, Marshall said there are other ways that Keystone could rebate the districts to funnel some education money back to the districts.
Next month the board will look at scenarios that involve a 10, 20 and 25 percent carry-over as opposed to 30 percent.
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