Ohio’s public schools, like many across the country, will soon have to learn to do more with less. A new study lays out a blueprint to maintain or improve their current performance, for a lot less money.
The study by KnowledgeWorks, a Cincinnati-based policy research organization, says schools could cut $1.4 billion dollars, or 20 percent of current spending, by working together to share noninstructional services.
“Sharing services and creating cradle-to-career initiatives can benefit students by freeing up more dollars to provide academic and support services to improve outcomes and focusing dollars on activities that result in student academic success,” said Andrew Benson, executive director of Ohio Education Matters, a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks.
Shared Services a Big Saver
The study, titled “Toward a New Model of Governance for Ohio,” was commissioned by former Gov. Ted Strickland’s (D) administration in 2010. Despite the change of political party with the election of Gov. John Kasich (R) soon after, Benson and his team decided to continue the study because of 2011’s giant projected budget cut.
“We saw an opportunity to put innovation into the [school] system and to lower costs,” Benson said.
The study compared school districts with one another to find methods to improve efficiency and effectiveness.
“Cost-cutting within a district can only take school officials so far, and those costs often are self-defeating because they affect academic outcomes,” Benson said. “But states can encourage school districts to think and act differently, causing them to combine resources with other entities to make their own dollars go farther.”
Shared services have worked in the private sector with companies such as General Electric, Pfizer, and Ford. Applying it to schools could encompass departments such as human resources, accounting, transportation, and special education, among others.
Saving money does not mean reduced quality, the report concluded. It listed measures that can help ensure schools continue to perform at a certain standard while reducing costs. In fact, shared spending should increase education quality, the report stated.
Among those advantages, shared services present “great opportunities for digital and blended learning approaches,” noted Byron McCauley, KnowledgeWorks’ public relations director.
Ohio’s best example of shared services is Jon Ritchie, superintendent to three small districts. Ritchie initially took on the second district with no pay increase, and his contract was recently renewed for another five years. He has testified to Ohio’s legislature about how well the arrangement suits students and taxpayers.
“The ‘new normal’ in public education is having to meet higher expectations with fewer resources, so school districts must find ways to do more with less,” Benson said.
In Ohio, each budget or levy change requires voter approval, which can prove difficult. This November, with the expected increase in voter turnout, Ohio schools will propose ballot initiatives for increasing shared services.
If successful, Benson said, legislators could add incentives to direct the money saved into classrooms.
Image by Emma Peel.