School officials talk about sharing services
BROOKFIELD — Sharing services among multiple school districts is becoming increasingly popular as operating costs grow.
Representatives from Brookfield, Liberty and Mathews school districts met Thursday to discuss sharing services based on a feasibility study, which analyzed each district during the 2018-19 fiscal year.
“This study identifies several areas where the partnering districts could combine efforts and increase efficiency. Specifically, opportunities are highlighted in the areas of transportation, special education, food services and administration,” Ohio Auditor Keith Faber said in his report.
“While this study is tailored to the needs of the partner districts in Trumbull County, shared services can be of use in all communities where government and citizens are looking for innovative ways to reduce costs and maintain services.”
Chief Auditor Jim Penning from the state auditor’s office read through the study and explained exactly where these districts can cooperate to save money.
The study said the three districts could store their buses at Liberty and follow Liberty’s plan for busing special-needs students. This would cut about 14 buses from regular education student routes and save close to $95,000 for transporting special needs students. It also would save Brookfield from having to spend $150,000 to build a new bus storage facility. They could contract food services out to a third party to save about $60,000, and the districts could share administrative staff to save $350,000 per year.
“The challenge is to see whether there’s a way to meet the needs of their kids in a more efficient and effective way, while still making sure that you don’t have a negative impact on the quality of service being provided to those students,” Penning said.
The three superintendents — Toby Gibson of Brookfield; Joe Nohra of Liberty; and Russell McQuaide of Mathews — are in agreement that something needs to be done and they are willing to work together to do what’s best for their students while saving money.
“One of the things that I appreciated from the study is the idea that we’re now thinking of things outside of the box, not just as one individual unit … We know that the dialogue is already open, for us to call each other to see what is occurring in their districts. I appreciate the willingness of the other districts to be thinking about that,” McQuaide said.
The superintendents intend to take baby steps in this process to make sure they aren’t taking on too much at one time and now that they have options from the auditor, they believe they have a clearer idea of the direction they want to head.
“What we did was we shared data, and we realized that some of the things that both of us were doing, that we could piggyback off of each other, and then do those same things, mimic what we’re doing in each of our districts,” said Nohra, who has begun working with McQuaide on food services after Mathews’ food service supervisor resigned. “So we appreciate that, and we’re going to be looking more in depth at what we can do to stop duplicating so many services. That’s really our plan moving forward.”
The superintendents also agree they want to tackle the transportation topic first as the districts don’t have enough drivers to cover routes and the buses are aging.
“The key is that we are willing to work together,” Gibson said.
Liberty’s bus mechanic resigned recently and the mechanic at Brookfield used to work for Liberty, so they are considering sharing the mechanic as a first step.
“There’s an opportunity to kind of test the feasibility of this study out. So we sat down to see if it’s something that is actually doable here in the near future, and I think other than working on some minor details, I think it’s something that definitely could be done here shortly,” Gibson said.
The shared services conversation is just beginning and the superintendents plan to continue working together to come up with a solution.