The announcement earlier this month that the Mahoning County Educational Service Center and the county’s Career and Technical Center will share administrations positively reinforces a slow but growing trend in the Mahoning Valley toward consolidation of public services.
In the ESC-CTC example, as in most others, merger makes sense structurally, financially and philosophically.
Structurally, the two boards share a common audience with a common goal of enhancing educational opportunities. The service center, which several years ago changed its name from the Mahoning County Board of Education, assists most public school districts in the county with dozens of services ranging from programs for disabled children to background checks of teachers.
The career and technical center, which some years ago changed its name from the Mahoning County Joint Vocational District, also serves the same public school districts throughout the county with specialized training for a wide variety of skill-based occupations ranging from state-of-the-art health care to information technology.
With such common missions, the two entities already interact extensively. The formal marriage between their administrative ranks promises stronger, more unified and coherent delivery of services to the tens of thousands of students and adults they target.
FINANCIAL GAINS AND FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY
The consolidation of leadership also improves financial accountability and fiscal responsibility to Mahoning County taxpayers.
Last year, the boards opted to share the same treasurer rather than having one treasurer for each district. “Anything we can do to become more efficient and [improve] cost savings has to be on the table,” ESC Superintendent Ron Iarussi said.
James Hall, president of the career and technical center’s board, agreed: “The lower our overhead is, the less we have to charge back to the local districts.”
At a time when education funding in Ohio continues to be a challenge for administrators and policymakers, such proactive and productive thinking merits support and commendation.
It also merits expansion among schools and local governments throughout the Valley. The philosophies of building economies of scale and tearing down unnecessary duplication of services have gained strong advocates among Ohio taxpayers. A 2012 statewide poll from the Center for Government Research shows about 80 percent of Ohioans want local governments and schools to collaborate, share and consolidate services for more responsible spending and more efficient operations
A growing list of examples illustrates that public officials in the Valley are responding to that call. Look at the ongoing joint road paving program among Austintown, Boardman and Canfield. Look at the consolidation of 911 emergency telephone services throughout Trumbull and Mahoning counties. Or look at the merging of building-inspection services between Youngstown and Mahoning County.
Still, examples of regional cooperation, coordination and consolidation remain the exception, not the rule, throughout the Valley. Many more creative opportunities for intergovernmental cooperation are there for the taking. School district, township, municipal and county leaders must seize those opportunities with all due speed.