North Country
11:04 am
Fri February 24, 2012

North Country SAUs Looking For Ways To Share And Save

Facing tighter budgets North Country school districts are participating in a task force exploring ways they can cooperate and save money.

There are two broad goals, said Wayne Gersen, the former superintendent of the Hanover school district, who is heading up the group.

One is to give students more educational opportunities, perhaps by having SAUs share teachers in areas such as music, art or even special-education testing.

“It is very difficult for districts to recruit part-time employees, but if there was a way they could work together and create intentional full-time assignments between districts we think that would not only save money but help with recruiting,” Gersen said.

The other goal is to explore the advantages of purchasing supplies or services together.

That could include technology, heating oil and even health insurance, said Gersen.

Obstacles include matching up schedules ranging from when classes are taught to when purchases are made.

“The biggest challenge is that even within SAUs sometimes it is difficult to get boards to work harmoniously with other school boards,” said Gersen.

“When talking about SAUs working with each other that can even be more of a challenge because you can run into different bargaining units, you can have different products that one district wants over another,” he said.

A major incentive for such cooperation is less money and declining enrollment, which drives up the per-pupil cost.

“I think it has a lot of potential, particularly as we see resources drying up,” said Paul Macmillan, the superintendent of  SAU 35.  “I think we have to work smarter and find ways that we can all get along and help each other.”

The two-year project is being coordinated by North Country Education Services of Gorham which obtained a $67,000 grant from the Neil and Louise Tillotson Foundation. The group began meeting about four months ago.