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A LESSON IN EFFICIENCY
STUDY OF COUNTY SCHOOLS SHOWS HOW DISTRICTS CAN SAVE MONEY AND NOT HARM ACADEMICS

A yearlong study of Erie County schools yielded valuable recommendations that could result in much-needed savings to the myriad of districts here. At a time when local school boards are pressuring residents to pay higher taxes, forcing neighborhood schools to close and shrinking academic offerings for students, this new report deserves attention.

It's 28 recommendations are meant to improve student learning and school leadership, among other things. But what most interests us are the recommendations that could help schools creatively cut costs. Some of the more intriguing recommendations encourage greater school district involvement with the Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

The BOCES network was created in the 1940s as an educational service organization that could provide smaller, non-city school districts with academic offerings that rural and suburban school districts couldn't provide on their own. Decades later, BOCES still plays a vital role in expanding programs and restraining costs for districts throughout the region. Many BOCES services are eligible for partial state reimbursement.

The yearlong study makes several important suggestions that school districts should actively explore. The most promising among them is school district participation in a trust created by Erie 1 BOCES that moves all employees under a single health-care provider. Erie 1 BOCES moved all its 750 employees under a single provider back in 2003 and has since saved $1 million, said Superintendent Donald Ogilvie. Several school districts have already started looking into enrolling their administrators in the trust.

Another recommendation that targets the Buffalo Public School District involves a bill to allow the city school system to buy an additional $2 million in annual services through BOCES. Programs purchased through BOCES can be reimbursed by the state up to 80 percent. Currently, the city school system is limited by law to utilizing only a few of the services BOCES provides. This restriction is a relic of the 1940s and '50s when city school districts were rich and rural/suburban school districts were poor. The opposite is true now. Buffalo schools deserve to have every opportunity to collaborate with other school districts through BOCES and save money while expanding students' educational choices.

Finally, we encourage all public and private schools to pursue the study's recommendation of adopting a common academic calendar that would give students and employees the same holidays and break periods. Ogilvie said the primary reason for this change is to more evenly space breaks in a way that makes the most academic sense.

But the report also states that with some regulatory adjustments, school districts could save on transportation costs. It points out that school districts pay out $9,000 every day the public schools are closed but private schools are open.

Erie County's schools and taxpayers have been squeezed to the limit. Area school board members, who claim they care about taxpayers, should embrace these creative ideas that cut costs without harming academic integrity.