KnowledgeWorks, a policy research organization based in Cincinnati, has released a blueprint that school districts in Ohio can follow to maintain their current academic performance at a 20% discount. The study's findings show that schools can save up to $1.4 billion dollars annually and cut their budgets by nearly 20% by making better uses of what the paper calls "shared services."
By "shared services" KnowledgeWorks refers to non-instructional resources that could be shared by two or more neighborhood schools or districts.
"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, the executive director of Ohio Education Matters, a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks.
The report, titled "Toward a New Model of Governance for Ohio," was commissioned by the state's former governor Ted Strickland. Although Strickland, a Democrat, was replaced in office by Republican John Kasich, Benson thought it worthwhile to continue the research, figuring the blueprint would prove useful due to education budget cutbacks that were likely to be enacted in 2011. Benson said that he and his group didn't want to miss an opportunity to introduce a new, innovative way to share and reduce costs.
Benson noted that the way school districts currently approach cost cutting could prove to be self-defeating in the future because they have a direct impact on student achievement. But if the state government can offer other examples for districts to follow, and provide tools to encourage inter-district cooperation and resource sharing, schools could achieve substantial savings without sacrificing academic outcomes of their students.
The report aims to have schools imitate private companies like General Electric and Pfizer who have put resource sharing plans into practice and reaped not only fiscal benefits but increased efficiency as a result.
Applying it to schools could encompass departments such as human resources, accounting, transportation, and special education, among others.
Report conclusions point out that money savings don't always have to mean quality compromises. By following the blueprint laid down in the study, schools can continue to perform at the same standards at before but at a reduced cost. As a matter of fact, in some cases, resource sharing could even improve student achievement in the districts involved.
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 has recently been renewed for another five years. He has testified to Ohio's legislature about how well the arrangement suits students and taxpayers.