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Ohio


Schools and shared services
This two-part series explores what’s being done, and where some want the concept to go
by WKSU's STATEHOUSE BUREAU CHIEF KAREN KASLER


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Karen Kasler
 
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In The Region:

For a while, the idea of “shared services” has been advocated as a way governments can save money.

In the first of a two-part series, Ohio Public Radio’s Karen Kasler outlines some of the latest ideas in “shared services” and some of the concerns about the concept.

Hear Part 1 of Schools and shared services

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There’s a new development at the intersection north of Gahanna-Lincoln High School east of Columbus. One building is Clark Hall, where some of Gahanna’s 2,200 high school students take classes. It’s plush and high tech – no lockers, but lots of table space and comfy chairs. Also in that building - Eastland Career Center and Columbus State Community College have leased space, along with the YMCA. And next door, there’s a new strip of retail space where a few restaurants are now operating. Gov. John Kasich noted in a speech there this summer that Clark Hall isn’t just the high school annex. 

“This is a very interesting building. A very interesting way of financing. The idea that you could figure out a way to bring profitable businesses in to help pay for the cost of this construction is unique – I don’t know where else we do it.”

Julio Valaderos is the treasurer of the Gahanna-Jefferson school district. He says Clark Hall was created when the land became available after a grocery store closed, so the district teamed up with a developer who builds the retail space and brings in the tenants, and leases the land from the district. 
“Our, the taxpayers’ return on investment is approximately about 21 to 25 years right now, and after that it’s all free money that we’ll get to put back into the schools’ operation for 25 to 85 years.”

Clark Hall is what some might call an extreme example of shared services – the practice of partnering with other entities to provide needed functions and personnel. Most of the partnerships are between schools and other government entities. School districts are teaming up to provide busing and to purchase technology. Some districts are even sharing personnel – at least a dozen districts are sharing treasurers, and a handful are sharing superintendents. And some are sharing buildings with local governments. And those districts that are sharing services are reporting what they call significant savings. John Marchhausen is the superintendent of Loveland City Schools in southwest Ohio. He talked about shared services at a recent statewide education conference. 

“The biggest challenge is we’ve always done it that way. The biggest challenge is giving up some of our control. It’s not about protecting our turf and keeping our control. It’s about finding a way to deliver better in Ohio more efficiently so we can bring more services to our kids.”

Randy Cole is the governor’s policy advisor on shared services initiatives. He wants to see more shared services between schools and government entities – and eventually even with private businesses, such as in the case of Clark Hall in Gahanna. 
Untitled 2 
“Shared services, collaboration in 2012 is much more a 21st century concept of developing a web or a network where you leverage the assets of any player of any size.”

But not everyone is thrilled about the way shared services is being pushed. 
“There’s a lot of promise, but eventually the law of diminishing returns comes into play and not nearly as much savings is had as was promised.”

Steven Dyer is a former reporter and a Democratic former state representative from Green near Akron, and is now the education policy fellow at the liberal think tank Innovation Ohio. He says there are efficiencies that could be wrung out in the current K-12 system, but says he’s suspicious that the goal is just to balance out more cuts in state funds. 
“Basically shared services is part of the solution for the financial issues, but it is certainly not a substitute for constitutional compliance by the state.”

And some within the educational community as they’re being encouraged to do more with shared services, how far they’ll eventually have to take that concept.

In part two, the future of the idea of shared services - and whether the goal is for Ohio to have fewer school districts among which to share services.

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