01 Mar Local School District s Eye Merging ServicesMarch 1, 2010
By: Loretta SwordSource: The Pueblo Cheiftain
Desperate times may call for desperate measures, but they should be taken only after careful thought and planning.
Collaboration between Pueblo County’s two school districts may have seemed unthinkable a few years ago, but combining some functions could improve services and each district’s bottom line.
That was the consensus Friday during a congenial joint meeting between administrators and board members from both school districts.
The meeting, which followed a retreat for representatives from Pueblo City Schools, was a brainstorming session about how the two districts might find ways to build on the savings realized by combining print shops, a move representatives on both sides agreed has been hugely successful.
After discussing a number of ideas, the combined boards directed Superintendents Dan Lere and Kathy West to put together joint committees to study the possibility of combining services, or collaborating to a great degree, in several areas: Special education, transportation, distance (online) learning and custodial/maintenance services. The committees will be comprised of employees who are on the "front lines" in each of those fields. Other areas that might provide potential for collaboration include Medicaid billing, alternative education at the high school level, purchasing and warehousing operations, public relations and safety programs.
Lere and West had met earlier this month to discuss how the districts could join forces to save money in the face of multi-million dollar budget cuts each district faces this year — and, if current trends continue, increasingly larger cuts over the next three years.
& lt;p> They agreed to meet again before the two boards convene for another joint meeting on April 9. They’ll discuss other potential avenues for collaboration and explore whether there also should be a committee to research the feasibility of merging the two districts at some point in the distant future.
That step likely won’t be taken if the ideas discussed Friday, or new ones, prove to be unworkable. Everyone in the room agreed that, if a feasibility committee is formed, its role would be to gather information — from education professionals, patrons, taxpayers and others — that both boards would study, likely for many months, before deciding whether to put the question of consolidation to voters.
Everyone in the room seemed to agree with District 70 board member Jan Reed, who said consolidation is something she could see happening "down the road, but not tomorrow."
West urged caution and careful study before even attempting new collaborative efforts in specific areas.
"We need to prioritize first, not try to do 20 things at once," she said.