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TASK FORCE OFFERS WAYS THAT SCHOOL DISTRICTS COULD BENEFIT FROM REGIONAL COLLABORATION

Coming up with the ideas for making schools better for less money seemed to be the easy part Thursday night.

Persuading schools to share what they have might be the hard part, according to many of the school board members, residents and students who met to talk about the Erie County Association of School Boards' study on regional collaboration.

The skepticism might be thickest in wealthier districts, where there's a sense that the schools are doing fine the way they are, some said.

"In Orchard Park, people are sensitive to that: 'We have a good program. Why should we share it?' " said Heidi Hughes, a former Orchard Park board member.

The idea, organizers said, is to find collaborations that benefit everybody.

"Sharing doesn't mean somebody gains and somebody's losing something," said Alison C. Hyde, a Hopevale board member and co-chairwoman of the task force.

Ann Martin, a consultant from Cornell University, said she was hopeful that people would be more receptive once they started imagining the results.

"Once you see the possibilities and how you can gain from it, I think the barriers start to come down," she said.

Ideas ran the gamut, from specific to conceptual, when the group sat down Thursday in the Orchard Park school administration building to brainstorm ways that schools could work together. For instance:

With a limited number of guidance counselors at some schools, students want more help when it's time to pick a college. Several schools might split the cost to have a group of college counselors travel from one district to another.

East Aurora and Orchard Park both have students who want to take Latin, but barely enough in each district to warrant offering the class. If the two schools could share a teacher, students in both places would benefit.

If a school in one district ends up with a few empty seats when September rolls around, officials could offer those spots to students in other districts in a type of open enrollment.

"Wouldn't it be wonderful to have motivated kids who want to go to that school?" said Mary Michael Egan, co-chairwoman of the Regional Collaboration Task Force.

The task force has commissioned Cornell University to study ways that schools in Erie County can work together to save money and improve education. After several months of research, Martin's team is asking for the public's input.

Thursday's session was the first of three community forums. The public is invited to the next two: 7:45 to 9:15 a.m. Wednesday in Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo and 7 to 8:30 p.m. Nov. 8 in the Sweet Home Community Center, 1901 Sweet Home Road, Amherst.

The Cornell team is expected to present its final recommendations to the public in February.

e-mail: mpasciak@buffnews.com

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