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Shared Services Aims To Save Schools Money Amid Funding Cuts

Many school districts started sharing services years ago, teaming up on busing and to buy technology, gas and health insurance. Some share special education teachers, psychologists and other educators, while a dozen share treasurers, and a few share superintendents. And in Gahanna near Columbus, a really unique partnership – the district bought some land near the high school, and while some students attend classes in one building, half of the land is retail space leased out to a developer. Ohio’s shared services czar Randy Cole says it needs to continue. “If you were sharing a treasurer or you were sharing busing with a neighboring school district, a lot of people think, well, we’re sharing services, and that’s the end of it. They don’t go through the rest of their operations, the rest of their budget and say, what more can we do?â€? Damon Asbury with the Ohio School Boards Association says shared services can bring what he calls significant savings – he cites as an example the $15 million a year that he says has been saved with the cooperative purchasing of electricity. But Asbury says if the plan is that sharing services will offset cuts in the current state budget, it’s not working. “No, no. I think not. I mean, districts, through a reduction, through federal funding and state cuts and tangible personal property tax I think the districts had something like a $1.6 billion loss. So the millions that are being saved help, but they don’t totally offset that.â€? Former reporter and ex-Democratic Akron area state Representative Steve Dyer is the education policy fellow at the liberal think tank Innovation Ohio. He notes the cut to K-12 in the current budget was closer to $1.8 billion. “You add up all of the full-time administrators and multiply that by the amount of the average salary they make, and it’s about $780 million. So if you got rid of every administrator, you’d save about $800 million, which is the .8 of the 1.8 billion that was cut in the last budget.â€? And with a school funding proposal expected in Gov. John Kasich’s budget coming this winter, some school officials are wondering where the concept of shared services leads. Ohio has 614 public school districts, as noted by Kasich at his budget unveiling in March 2011. “Yes, I think we need to look at how many school districts do we need and if we were to have consolidation, what does it say?â€? No one in the governor’s office or the legislature has advocated the consolidation of Ohio’s districts into a smaller number directly, and there would almost certainly be diverse opposition if that were proposed. And school officials say there has been consolidation down from hundreds more districts years ago. But Dyer says the solution isn’t to consolidate – he says it’s for the state to come up with the actual cost of educating a child…. “….and then the state stepping up to the plate and funding it so that we can have serious property tax relief. It’s sort of like losing weight. There’s no real shortcut from better diet and more exercise.â€? But the state’s Randy Cole cites a General Accounting Office in Washington report estimating a permanent 12.7% difference between the taxes that economic growth can generate and the rate of spending. So he says shared services must deal with that gap. “It’s an important piece of the puzzle, but it’s also the path we’re on. Yesterday is not coming back.â€? The state has set up a website at BeyondBoundaries.ohio.gov, which also includes a tool kit to help schools and other entities with the concept of shared services. Read part one of the shared services feature: Gahanna Schools Adopt ‘Shared Services’ With Private Industry'