LIBERTY - Financial crises on local, regional, statewide and national levels are convincing some school leaders to revisit ideas of regionalization and the consolidation efforts they once may have rejected.
Last week, Liberty Township School Board President Gloria Lang said that district has begun initial discussions about either consolidating the district with neighboring communities, such as Hubbard and Girard, or supports the idea of creating a single county-wide administration.
The district must find a way to address a three-quarter of a $1 million annual loss that is a result of 140 students leaving the district last year through a state program called Ed Choice.
Under Ed Choice, parents can take their students out of a school district and send them elsewhere if one of its schools earn ratings of academic watch or academic emergency for two out of three years. However, the original district is responsible for providing the funding for that child's education until the student graduates.
At $5,200 per student, Liberty is losing $728,000 per year due to the loss of these elementary school students.
Initially, the district is looking at putting on a 9.9-mill levy to make up the losses. Lang says district leaders also must look at other avenues, including the one county administration concept introduced in 2007 by the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber.
Chamber President Thomas Humphries says the one superintendent/one administration per county idea would decrease annual costs in the three-county region by millions of dollars per year. Under the chamber's proposal, the bulk of the savings could be used to provide post secondary and college education for each of the students in the school districts.
The concept not only would reduce personnel by eliminating positions, it would provide districts leverage to negotiate better purchasing deals for equipment and supplies because they would be purchasing a larger amount of the items at one time.
''This could make the area more attractive to business looking to expand or move into region by lowering property taxes and eventually creating a more highly educated workforce in the school they need,'' Humphries said.
The chamber has pushed the one county administration concept to area school boards, superintendents, members of the Ohio Senate and House, the governor's office and others with little movement.
It received little support from most in the education field.
Although the Chamber once had talked about putting it on the November 2007 ballot for consideration, it decided against moving in that direction due to opposition from most school boards and administrations.
Bristol Schools Superintendent Marty Santillo questions how one superintendent would answer to the different needs of multiple school districts.
''I am familiar with a one superintendent per county concept that is in Florida, and what has happened there is the districts increased the number of associate superintendents,'' Santillo said. ''So whatever savings is earned through the elimination of some superintendents would seem to have been taken away through the hiring of associate superintendents.''
In addition, Santillo is concerned that even in a single county, different school districts have different concerns.
"Some school districts spend a significant amount on their football programs, while others, like Bristol, do not have a football program," Santillo said.
Santillo argues that Bristol already has one of the lowest per student costs in the state, so there will not be a lot of savings.
Likewise, Girard Superintendent Joseph Jeswald does not believe having one superintendent per county is a workable idea.
"Most of us (superintendents), especially those of us in smaller districts, already do so many things, I don't see how they would combine all of the superintendents into one," Jeswald said. "In some districts, the superintendent is the curriculum director, transportation chief, as well as playing many other roles that are handled by separate people in larger districts. It would not be possible for one person to wear so many hats for every school district in the county."
Jeswald questions how much money would be saved by combining the superintendents.
Humphries said he had been hoping Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland would use some of the concepts of the one administration per county concept in his education reform package.
Strickland did not; however, less than a week later, Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell suggested consolidating his state's 500 school districts into no more than 100 districts.
''Gov. Rendell definitely is moving in the right direction,'' Humphries said.
Under the chamber's proposal, Ohio would move from having more than 600 school district administrations to 88. Mahoning County would move from having 14 administrations to one, and Trumbull would drop from having 21 administrations to one.
The combined administration would have a single superintendent, treasurer, transportation supervisor and other nonteaching positions.
Humphries says the chamber now is trying to convince state legislators to seek financial support to have a pilot study done on the concept using Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties as the test regions.
''We are walking the concept through,'' Humphries said.
Individual school districts would continue to exist, so communities would maintain their identities as far as sports programs and other activities.