Press-Republican

June 18, 2013

Editorial: Moving toward shared services

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Press-Republican

---- — We applaud the intent by two of the biggest school districts in our area — Beekmantown Central School and Plattsburgh City Schools — to look into areas where they can cut costs by sharing duties or services.

Beekmantown School Board has already given the idea unanimous support. Plattsburgh City School Board members have individually endorsed the concept, although the actual vote is expected to take place this Wednesday.

The initiative started off somewhat covertly, with representatives from both schools purposely getting together in numbers that didn’t constitute a quorum, so the meetings didn’t have to be revealed to the public. Not the best way to start the process, in our opinion, though no laws were broken.

Merger is not on the agenda between these two districts, though some people might right away wonder — or worry — about that.

And the districts are not allowed to share a superintendent, as St. Regis and Brushton-Moira school districts in Franklin County do. State law says only districts with fewer than 1,000 students can share leaders. Beekmantown had 1,936 students in the 2010-11 school year, and Plattsburgh had 1,814.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t savings to be had. In fact, it seems unlikely that the study will find there are no means to cut costs through working together. Unnecessary overlap is almost certain to be uncovered.

The districts will hire a professional consulting company to do the study. That will take about six months and cost $20,000 plus expenses, but it’s a reasonable amount since it is split between the two districts and will take any suggestion of bias out of the equation. The state has been promoting shared services for years, so funding may even be available to help with costs.

The company the schools are hiring, Castallo and Silky, based in Syracuse, would review administrative and management functions, facilities, transportation, exchange programs, special-education services, advanced-placement courses and more, to see what could be shared.

Plattsburgh may also ask the same company to study its building use — a worthwhile endeavor, in our opinion. Though we hear that classroom space is limited at the city schools — Momot, Bailey Avenue and Oak Street elementary schools, Stafford Middle School and Plattsburgh High School — we would like to see whether Duken Administration Building on Broad Street — or especially the large lot surrounding it — could be sold so valuable land could be returned to the city tax rolls.

We trust that all further discussions of shared services will take place at public meetings, and that both school communities will be able to provide input before any final decisions are made.

There is much to be gained — both financially and from an educational perspective — from reducing duplication and pooling resources. Every school in the North Country should consider whether it has a neighboring district with which it could team up for cost savings.