BUSINESS WISDOM HAS IT that in order to make money you have to spend money. But what if you want to save money? Is that also a reason to spend?
People who want to sell something assure their customers it is. Imagine what you’ll save if you buy a better car (telephone, sofa or sweater for your goldfish…)! And sometimes they’re right. Take the Cash for Clunkers program.
Now two local school districts, Ichabod Crane Central in Kinderhook and Schodack in neighboring Rensselaer County are about to give the theory a whirl with a plan to spend a few thousand dollars each on a study to see whether they can reasonably expect to save some money by a “functional consolidation” of services.
If the districts’ grant proposal is successful, the state will pay for most of the study as part of its initiative to encourage local municipalities to share services and find other ways to save money. If the state rejects the proposal, school district officials say local taxpayers will only have spent about $4,500 in each district to hire a firm to prepare the grant. They’ll ask taxpayers to absorb that cost, and the districts will look for other ways to reduce expenses.
The districts haven’t said how much money they expect to save–they don’t know yet, which is why they want to study the idea. But they have reassured voters that they have no plans to merge. Firmly rejecting the merger option probably spares the school boards the political headache of an outcry by loyal alumni who would rather pay higher taxes than abandon the identity of one or the other district. And it might forestall protests from those who fear that larger administrative districts would result in less local control over what happens in the schools.
But it also eliminates a tool for cutting costs that could have, at the very least, provided a best (or worst) case against which the districts could measure all the other options. Sidestepping the merger question may have postponed distracting emotional arguments about the value of retaining two distinct and separate school districts, but it makes the whole exercise a little less valuable.
That criticism aside, the Ichabod Crane board and administration have demonstrated an ability to work with other districts, including New Lebanon and Chatham, on sharing services. Now, to their credit, district leaders are exploring new possibilities for sharing services. It might seem natural in that context for Ichabod Crane to look to the district directly north.
What makes the new proposal more intriguing is that crosses county lines even though many people here feel a strong sense of connection to the county where they live. It also raises the question of whether Ichabod Crane officials, who have led the way on sharing services, have exhausted the best options in Columbia County and find they must look a little farther afield for new opportunities.
The geographic boundary between Columbia and Rensselaer counties means little other than a change in road maintenance crews. Neighboring fire companies cooperate; people commute back and forth. More to the point, both counties fall within the administrative district of the Questar III BOCES. (The regional Board of Cooperative Educational Services concept was itself an attempt to consolidate services.) And Castleton, where the Schodack schools are located, lies closer to Ichabod Crane than most of the schools in Columbia County. And yet there’s still something that makes this proposal sound slightly unconventional, even a little daring, compared to the agreements now in place.
Well into the second half of the 20th century local schools here and around the state were consolidating into central districts, sometimes to save money, but more often to give kids a chance at a better education in better financed schools. It’s not clear that educational goals are at the top of the list in the state’s push to encourage schools to share services, but it is clear that if taxpayers can’t afford to pay for districts in their current form, then the quality of education in those districts will suffer as a result.
The state Department of State, which funds consolidation studies like the one under consideration by
Ichabod Crane and Schodack, should approve this project. District voters should support it too. The ideas that emerge may not yield the best solution, but they’ll be a good start.