Peru and Saranac Central schools share payroll duties.
Saranac further shares a consultant with Plattsburgh City School for administrative evaluations.
As the economy continues to struggle and school districts cut further into budgets, resulting in layoffs for many, shared services is steadily catching on in some parts of the North Country.
“It is absolutely important,” said Peru Central School Superintendent A. Paul Scott. “School districts have always been engaged with sharing services and programs, but there seems to be an increase in scope of sharing under way.”
Peru and Saranac schools utilize one individual for payroll services through Champlain Valley Educational Services.
“Peru experienced a retirement this school year and we are sharing that essential function between two school districts, and so far it is working well,” Scott said. “The fact two districts can work together and find ways to streamline, it is virtually reducing the cost by 50 percent.”
That’s vital for school districts that have faced three years of frozen or reduced aid, which at Peru resulted in a $41.4 million budget budget passed this past May that axed 15 positions under $1.15 million in cuts.
“In addition to sharing payroll services between two districts,” Scott said, “we are doing it through BOCES, because our districts receive BOCES aid for a portion of that essential service.”
Saranac and Peru further share a hockey team.
“It is a well-received partnership that affords both districts the capacity to provide a hockey program.”
This will be a particularly challenging budget year, Scott said, and school districts should explore sharing services whenever it is feasible.
But for services, such as back-office functions, it is important to consider doing so when a position opens through attrition, Scott said.
“When you lay someone off you add to unemployment,” pointed out Saranac Central School Superintendent Kenneth Cringle.
A year ago, the district attempted to share buildings and grounds services, but Cringle said that endeavor proved too ambitious for one individual.
Sharing a payroll clerk with Peru has been a healthy relationship, he said.
Saranac also partners with Plattsburgh City Schools by sharing a consultant for teacher evaluations.
School districts across the country that received Race to the Top funding must adopt tougher standards for teacher and principal evaluations. Federal grant money covers some of the cost, but ultimately, it has become an unfunded mandate for school districts.
Cringle said sharing a consultant with Plattsburgh City School will be cost effective and produce a better product.
Saranac Central School is considering further mergers, including sharing a business administrator with a neighboring district to complete internal audits.
Cringle predicts another tough budget year that will result in soaring costs and dwindling revenues.
Saranac faced a $3.8-million budget deficit due to escalating costs and a $2.1 million state-aid shortfall as it began crafting its spending plan last year. The district had planned to eliminate more than a dozen positions and make program cuts until the faculty volunteered significant financial concessions that totaled more than $500,000.
But costs continue to rise and schools know the state doesn’t have enough funds in its coffers to remedy looming budget deficits.
“More and more schools and local governments are looking to share services as a way to control or even cut costs,” said Sen. Betty Little. “These types of agreements and collaborations have existed for years. However, financial pressure is affecting everyone as the economy continues to struggle so we’re seeing more of an interest in sharing services.”