By ASHLEIGH LIVINGSTON
---- — PLATTSBURGH — A shared-services study is now underway in the Plattsburgh City and Beekmantown Central school districts.
“Both school districts have been talking about, for some time, taking a look at shared services and what we could do in partnership together, whether it’s for cost effectiveness, greater efficiency or advancing our students in one way or another,” City School Superintendent James “Jake” Short told attendees of a recent joint meeting of the two school boards at the Duken Building in Plattsburgh.
There, Alan Pole of the Syracuse-based education consulting firm Castallo and Silky discussed the process and scope of the project, which his firm was hired to conduct.
The districts agreed in June to undergo the study and split the $20,000 cost plus reimbursement of consultant expenses.
They have provided the firm with data that Pole and colleague Jessica Cohen will use to determine areas of potential collaboration between the schools.
“What this study is really about is whether or not there’s a possibility to do business differently,” said Pole, who, along with Cohen, visited BCSD before the meeting and conducted interviews with district staff.
They were scheduled to do the same at the City School the following day.
This study, Pole said, will address whether there are ways to increase sharing of instructional programs, support services and administrative services between the districts, and if so, what the financial implications might be and how the districts might plan to implement such sharing.
In doing so, the firm will look at the potential for sharing administrators, including an athletic, special-education or instructional-technology director; business official; and superintendent.
There are currently two conflicting pieces of legislation in education law, Pole noted, “one of which says you have to have fewer than 1,000 students to share a superintendent and another one that says anyone can share a superintendent.”
After consulting with lawyers, he continued, his firm is under the impression the latter legislation is correct. So unless he hears otherwise, he will assume PCSD and BCSD could legally share a district leader and will study that concept.
The firm will also explore the feasibility of creating student- and teacher-exchange programs between the districts, as well as sharing athletics, extra-curricular offerings and special-education services.
“I’m pretty excited to be looking at some of these possibilities from an educational sharing standpoint,” Beekmantown Central School Board President Debbie Passno said at the meeting.
“This isn’t all about saving dollars, but it’s about increasing opportunities for our students.”
In addition, BCSD and PCSD’s management functions, including everything from transportation, food and health services to records management, purchasing, printing and copying, will be examined.
Pole said he wasn’t sure whether there would be huge opportunities for sharing facilities between the districts, but that will be looked into, as well.
NOT A MERGER
He stressed the fact that the project is a shared-services study alone and not in any way a merger study, which requires a much different and lengthier process.
“When we finish, there will be a Plattsburgh City School District and a Beekmantown Central School District,” Pole said. “Nothing in the structure of the school districts will change.”
However, he continued, while it’s likely the services study will reveal ways the districts can work together to save money, that money will be significantly less than the amount a merger study could result in.
The state wants districts to merge, he said, and offers huge incentives for them to do so, which “can fundamentally change your school district’s fiscal condition for the next 15 to 20 years.”
‘SHARING IS DIFFICULT’
Pole also pointed out that all parties involved in the current project must be sensitive to the fact that positions within both districts will be evaluated.
“One of the reasons this is such an emotional issue is that people’s jobs are talked about. … We understand that this is a very personal conversation,” he said.
In addition, Pole told meeting attendees not to expect sharing services to be easy.
“When you have to share, you give something up; you give up some control of whatever it is you’re sharing,” he said. “It’s probably not going to be as absolutely convenient as it was when you were doing it yourselves.
“Sharing is difficult, and we get that that whole issue underlies this whole study.”
The consultants expect to complete their data collection in October, analyze that information the following month and report their findings to both school boards at another joint meeting in December.
Email Ashleigh Livingston:firstname.lastname@example.org
Information related to the shared services study will be made available on the City School website, plattscsd.org, and the Beekmantown Central website, bcsdk12.org.