Study could benefit area

Several local school districts are participating in a study to determine if it is feasible for them to share services and facilities. It is an effort that could increase efficiency and save taxpayers money, if it is handled correctly.

Ohio House Bill 5, which became law in September, allows the Ohio Auditor’s Office to work with local government entities, such as school districts. In response local school districts formed the Ohio Shared Services Collaborative consortium and used a grant to analyze and track bus routes, idle time and feasibility of shared services and facilities. In the wake of that study, Bellaire Local School District was chosen to receive the first shared services feasibility study conducted by the state auditor’s Ohio Performance Team.

This study will focus on partnering school districts sharing school bus facilities and maintenance resources. In addition to Bellaire, the partners include Bridgeport Exempted Village School District, Martins Ferry City School District, Shadyside Local School District and St. Clairsville-Richland City School District and two educational service centers, East Central Ohio ESC and Muskingum Valley ESC.

“There’s a significant potential for savings and improvements from seven governments joining forces,” said state Auditor Dave Yost.

Yost is right about that. All five districts are geographically close, so it makes sense to look at ways they can work together to save money. The study will compare what each district spends on routine maintenance, such as oil, filter, belt and tire changes to determine whether combining those services would save money for all.

Data is being collected this month. It will be analyzed over the summer, and decisions will be made in the fall.

If savings can realized, that will be great news for our region. Officials leading this effort, though, must be careful that the study does not lead to creation of a whole new level of bureaucracy, such as a new county or regional department to oversee these shared services, which ultimately could increase costs rather than reducing them.