A combined report by Ohio’s chambers of commerce has rekindled a controversial plan to consolidate public school administrations in the Mahoning Valley.
“There are a lot of opportunities out there for local government and schools to share services and reduce costs,” said Tony Paglia, vice president of government and media affairs for the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber. Overall the report found hundreds of millions of dollars in savings available through more effective sharing of services.
In 2007, the chamber drew criticism from school officials after its board of directors endorsed a proposal that would have all school districts in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties administered by a central administrative office per county rather than have duplicated administrative teams for each district. The Regional Chamber recommendation was cited as part of the overall report from the combined chambers of commerce for the state.
Each district would retain its identity, including its own school board and sports teams, under the 2007 plan.
Mahoning County school officials at that time questioned the cost savings projected by the chamber and complained that they were not advised of the plan before the announcement.
Paglia acknowledged the plan was not very well received.
“What has happened over the last five years is there has been a lot of movement toward sharing services at the county or regional level,” he said.
Districts already are working together locally or through the educational service centers in Mahoning and Trumbull counties to share services for information technology, health care costs or other expenses, Paglia said.
For several years, the Mahoning County Area Cooperative Computerized Educational Support System has provided Internet, payroll services and other technology to all Mahoning County schools, most Columbiana County schools and a few other entities.
Last month, ACCESS received a $100,000 grant from the Local Government Innovation Fund for a feasibility study of a shared- services computer network for the county. Mahoning County Educational Service Center, Mahoning County Auditor’s office, county commissioners, Austintown, Boardman, Goshen, Springfield and Poland townships; Poland Village, Struthers, Data Recovery Systems, New Middletown, Youngstown, and the county sheriff’s, recorder’s and treasurer’s offices participate.
The grant is through the Ohio Department of Development.
Lock P. Beachum Sr., Youngstown Board of Education president, said the district is willing to consider shared services.
“If it’s a way of saving money, I’m quite sure the board would be more than willing to look at it,” he said.
Frank Lazzeri, Boardman schools superintendent, said schools already share a lot of services. He referred to ACCESS, health insurance and some supplies. Boardman, as well as other districts, also use the county educational service center psychological testing, physical and occupational therapy and other services
“They act as if we have done nothing for cost containment, and I find that ffensive,” Lazzeri said.
The report mentions shared food services as a way to save money, but Lazzeri said his district’s food service operates in the black every year.
“Our lunch prices are among the lowest in the county,” he said.
Lazzeri questions whether consolidation always saves money for every district.
School superintendents already operate districts like businesses, he said. They have to watch every dollar spent, Lazzeri said.
“I’m personally offended they’re implying that we’re not business people, and we don’t know what we’re doing,” he said.
State Rep. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-60th, said sharing services is “a wise move” for government entities as it saves money, such as having the ability to purchase materials in larger quantities at a discount.As for consolidating school systems, Hagan said that’s a tough challenge.
“People want involvement and control over their school districts,” he said. “Until they understand the value of it, we’ll never pass anything at the state legislative level. I’m for it, as times are tough.”
One problem, Hagan said, is the local chamber has “run roughshod over school consolidation,” and by doing so, the proposal has “fallen on deaf ears.”
The full report can be read online at http://www.beyondboundaries.ohio.gov/documents/Beyond%20Boundaries-6.14.12released.pdf.
CONTRIBUTORS: Denise Dick, David Skolnick and Burton Speakman contributed to this article.