Can schools cut costs?

ICC, Schodack seek state funds to study ‘functional consolidation’

VALATIE–The Ichabod Crane school board formally agreed this week to participate with the Schodack Central School District in southern Rensselaer County on a joint application for a “functional consolidation study” through the state Department of State. Both districts say they are talking about ways to share services, not ways to merge.

On the subject of the memorandum of agreement with Schodack that the ICC board voted Tuesday,  October 6, to approve, Board President John Phillips said the school officials had “a very productive meeting” with their Schodack counterparts last Saturday, discussing how the two adjoining districts could share services. ICC currently shares certain services with the Chatham, New Lebanon and Germantown districts.

 

“Each district is maintaining their own identity,” said schools Superintendent James Dexter about the proposed consolidation study.

In a press release Schodack School Superintendent Douglas Hamlin said, “We are rapidly running out of ways to reduce costs ourselves. This is a possible solution to the fiscal problem all districts face as we lose state aid and federal stimulus funding.”

The districts will split equally the $9,000 cost of applying for the grant. Mr. Dexter said that applying for the grant would not obligate the board to participate in anything the study recommends. He said the full study is expected to cost $82,000, but the districts will not proceed with the study unless they receive approval for the $50,000 state grant for which they are applying.

The grant would come through the Local Efficiencies program administered by the state Department of State, not the Education Department. Mr. Dexter said after the meeting that school districts are technically considered municipalities under state law, and school districts, like cities, towns and villages, are being encouraged by the state to consolidate services. But under the terms of the grant, the districts will have to chip in some money of their own for the study.

Adding in the cost of paying a consultant to assist the districts in applying for the grant, the total cost of the project will come to just over $90,000. Assuming the state awards the district the full amount they plan to ask for, the districts will be responsible for paying a total of $20,000 each to complete the study. Mr. Dexter said the Ichabod Crane Board plans to split that payment over two years, leaving taxpayers with a bill for about $10,000 a year for a program that could show them how, in the longer term, they can save money.

Before the districts can move ahead with the study application, the Schodack school board will also have to approve the agreement. The press release from the schools said that if the state approves the grant, the school districts expect to initiate the study in February and receive recommendations in May.

Mr. Dexter said that they are moving ahead with the study with Schodack because the two districts are “kind of in the same spot.”

The superintendent also said that he didn’t know of any other districts that had a functional consolidation, so it will be a learning process for both districts. 

Also at the meeting, the board approved a demographic and enrollment study conducted by Dr. Paul Seversky during the last school year. Board members received the 100-page document and reviewed it with Dr. Seversky at the meeting.  Dr. Seversky called the study a tool to help the school district in programming, financial and facilities decision making.

He predicted that the district would see a slight decrease in high school enrollment over the next 10 years but not as large a drop as some other districts in the county. “More kids showed up in your kindergarten classes than were born in your district five years earlier,” he said of the data for live births in the area. He said housing data show that families are moving into the district. Mr. Dexter said the study would be put on the district website, www.ichabodcrane.org.

Mr. Phillips opened Tuesday’s meeting with a moment of silence for “the sad loss of a student,” a reference to Nicholas VanBenschoten, 16, a sophomore at Ichabod Crane, who was killed in a car accident last week.

The next regular board meeting will be Tuesday, November 11, at 7 p.m. in the Middle School Library.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .

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