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Schenectady County school districts eye consolidated-services grant

Monday, April 2, 2012
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— The seven Schenectady County school districts are again seeking a state grant to explore shared business services.

The districts last year unsuccessfully sought the Department of State Local Government Efficiency Grant to consider consolidating functions such as business administration, auditing, purchasing, personnel, centralized stores, printing and mailing.

Schenectady Interim Superintendent of Schools John Yagielski said Schenectady’s grant writer talked with state officials about what the districts needed to do to improve the application and it was decided to expand the focus.

“It will be a bigger project in a sense in it covers all the functions in the business offices,” he said.

Additional options could include a central business manager or a central payroll officer, according to Yagielski.

If the districts are successful in obtaining the three-year $292,000 grant, they would study the issue with the help of the Center for Governmental Research. The organization has worked with school districts in other parts of the state that have undertaken similar projects.

“Obviously, we think we’re in a better position and have made a stronger application this year than last and certainly are hoping that we’re successful,” he said.

The other participating districts are Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, Duanesburg, Mohonasen, Niskayuna, Schalmont and Scotia-Glenville.

Niskayuna Superintendent Susan Kay Salvaggio said it was a strong application last year.

“We had a score that would have awarded us the grant. They ran out of money,” she said.

Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Central School spokeswoman Christy Multer said her district in the late 1980s sought a joint bid on copier paper.

That eventually expanded to other items, with Schenectady County school districts seeking cooperative bids for pool supplies, bus parts, toner cartridges and heating, ventilation and air conditioning supplies.

The cooperation has saved thousands of dollars, according to Multer. She said it made sense to reapply for the grant.

“I think we’re always looking for more efficient ways to do things, innovative ways to do things,” she said.

The three-year grant requires a 10 percent local match, which would be split among the districts based on enrollment.

A total of $79 million is available in funding for the program this year.

Schenectady County had taken the lead last year. County spokesman Joe McQueen said this year’s application is slightly different and it was determined that each of the school districts’ business functions are similar enough that they could apply together without the county’s participation.

Duanesburg Central Superintendent Christine Crowley said several audits are required by law of school districts, so that could be potential for collaboration.

With the rise in online services, tracking payroll and vacation time could be consolidated in a central location, Crowley said.

Districts are trying to survive in a tight fiscal environment.

“We’re going to have to look at doing things differently. We’re just trying to explore any and all options to maintain all the programs students need to graduate with to be successful,” Crowley said.

The Mohonasen, Schalmont and Duanesburg school districts are applying for a separate $40,000 Department of State Local Government Efficiency Grant that would explore shared services, including the possibility of a merger.

Schalmont Superintendent Valerie Kelsey said the districts won’t find out if they receive the grant until the end of the summer. If successful, the next step in both cases would be to send out a request for proposals for a consultant to do the study.

Mohonasen Superintendent Kathleen Spring said previously that the district is not necessarily eager to merge but including the idea of consolidation in the application gets more points, increasing the likelihood of receiving funding.

The three school districts have already been exploring the idea of a shared bus garage.

Crowley said the districts would be able to offer Advanced Placement classes together through distance learning that they would not be able to offer themselves because of enrollment.

It is not an all-or-nothing proposition, Crowley said. Perhaps, the study would show that it is better for just Mohonasen and Schalmont to collaborate on one thing and Schalmont and Duanesburg on another.

Duanesburg is also involved with a similar study with other districts close to them — Schoharie, Middleburgh, Cobleskill-Richmondville and Berne-Knox-Westerlo.

 
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April 2, 2012
10:21 a.m.
hodgkinst says...

The first step in consolidating all the Schenectady County school districts.

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