The Burlingame School District Board of Trustees approved the district’s 2011-2012 budget last week, and school districts across the county are putting into place their budgets for the next school year in order to meet the state-imposed deadline of June 30, 2011.
Meanwhile, after Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the state budget that the state legislature passed, California’s finances remain in limbo. So, as they prepare their budgets, district officials face budget cuts and an uncertain financial picture for the 2011-2012 school year.
As they look to the future, school district officials are finding a shared services model may be one option for reducing costs. Shared services is the term used to describe a collaborative arrangement between or among two or more school districts, or between a school district and one or more public or private agency to share staff or buy and/or sell goods or services.
By taking advantage of economies of scale and sharing the costs and responsibility for the delivery of services, school districts may be able to reduce costs and increase efficiency. A shared services model could improve service levels by providing a higher quality of services and allowing school districts to offer services that might not otherwise be available.
The San Mateo County Office of Education Facilitates Shared Service Collaboration
The San Mateo County Office of Education (SMCOE) is working to facilitate and encourage shared service collaboration among districts and county agencies. Last summer, SMCOE and a broad coalition of organizations, including the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the County of San Mateo, and the San Mateo County School Boards Association, contracted with School Services of California to do a study of shared services in San Mateo County. The study was also supported by the City Managers Association of San Mateo County.
The study’s aim was to evaluate the current inventory of services (how agencies are currently providing services), the capacity of agencies to expand current services and the interest in procuring services through alternate means. School Services staff sent out a survey in August 2010 to 46 agencies including cities, school districts, and County Office staff. School Services staff then conducted follow-up interviews with superintendents, city and town managers, and the deputy county manager.
The School Services report, presented to SMCOE in November 2010, highlighted existing examples of shared services and made recommendations for areas of potential collaboration. Several cities and school districts already have joint-use facilities agreements for field maintenance and use. Some school districts are sharing special education services. Potential areas for future collaboration include: purchasing; staff development; transportation; preschool; before- and after-school programs; classroom computer technology; various arts programs; library services and specialized services including mental health specialists, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, and physical health services.
The survey results noted that collaboration among school districts and cities is likely to be more promising in the area of administrative and operational services. Collaboration solely among school districts is more apt to focus on educational and instructional services.
No one expects sharing services to be easy, however. The School Services report also highlighted these areas of concern, expressed by those interviewed for the report: fear of losing control of the services provided, concern for the quality of the service, concern that state laws and requirements differ between agencies, maintaining a degree of control over the shared service, loss of institutional knowledge/expertise, resistance to exploring shared services for fear that current agency staff will become obsolete and political obstacles in sharing services.
Local Districts Find Collaboration Works
The has for many years had a joint-use agreement with the City of Burlingame for maintenance of the athletic fields, which are used both for school activities, sports league teams and recreation department programs.
“We’ve discussed shared services in other areas, and we are particularly interested in pursuing sharing services for special education programs with other districts,” said Jud Kempson, Burlingame’s Interim Superintendent. “It’s an ongoing discussion.”
Since 2006, the North County Collaborative ― which includes Bayshore, Brisbane, Jefferson Elementary, Pacifica, San Bruno Park, Millbrae and South San Francisco school districts ― has developed a system for sharing special education services.
“Each district focuses on its strong programs,” said Wendy Tukloff, Pacifica School District Superintendent. “In Pacifica, we have a strong program for autistic students, so we will take students from other districts. It’s a cost-saver for other districts to send students to our program. It saves on transportation costs as well and the children benefit by not having to travel as far to receive services.”
The Pacifica School District also provides food services for the Brisbane and Bayshore districts.
“We provide a service to them and it supports our ability to have the service for our students,” said Tukloff. With this economy of scale, the district is able to get more leverage in the types of food served and the quality of the product.
Matteo Rizzo, Jefferson Elementary District Superintendent, has been looking at a number of options for shared services. He has considered sharing services for garbage and maintenance but so far has not found a workable arrangement. But in the school district’s business office and curriculum department, he has added and upgraded positions with an eye to the future.
“We’re positioning ourselves for the future,” he said. Many districts hire consultants to help with e-rate, medical administration and reimbursement, where the Jefferson Elementary District has the capacity to handle these functions in house.
“Eventually, we can provide these services to smaller districts,” he said. In the curriculum area, his district has added support personnel in English language development, English language arts and math. Down the road, he foresees his curriculum team working with other districts to provide support and staff development.
“It makes sense for districts to come together, especially in these tough economic times,” said County Superintendent Anne Campbell. “The County Office stands ready to assist districts and facilitate collaboration.”