TIM KELLY PHOTO
Gary Bixhorn, chief executive officer of Eastern Suffolk BOCES, talks school finances during a recent North Fork United Schools gathering in Cutchogue.
Although a merger of the North Fork’s five school systems seems unlikely, there are opportunities for the districts to share services and so reduce costs through BOCES, according to a program administrator with BOCES.
While not every option may be a good fit locally, BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services) can help with joint bidding, some transportation and purchasing services, Gary Bixhorn, chief executive office for Eastern Suffolk BOCES, told a recent gathering of school officials.
Mr. Bixhorn and other BOCES staffers outlined the shared services possibilities for the group called North Fork United Schools, which comprises school board members and administrators. Its sole mission is to foster greater cooperation among local districts. The meeting took place June 5 at Cutchogue East Elementary School.
Mr. Bixhorn suggested that in a time of deep economic uncertainty and ever-shrinking state aid, local schools need to rethink their approaches to the business side of education.
“This is the first year in 20 years we’ve seen a cut in state support and we’ll be lucky to avoid another cut next year,” he said. “What we are doing now more and more is identifying groups of school districts that have a common need that could best be addressed by a common approach.”
Some efforts are already underway. Several of the East End’s smaller schools, including Greenport and Southold, have asked for BOCES support and administrative assistance in buildings and grounds. In response, BOCES has hired a veteran plant operations administrator to provide that help.
BOCES is also willing to assist schools through shared business office services, which Mr. Bixhorn said have the potential to cut those costs by 30 percent. The board is also exploring consolidating health insurance plans and has received proposal for a transportation efficiency study.
“It’s a matter of putting the ideas out there, letting districts take a look at their needs and come back to us and let us know what we can do,” said Mr. Bixhorn. “There’s a lot of opportunity to look at business functions and analyze different approaches. If shared services makes sense, we have the mechanism to do something.”
One potential downside is the loss of local jobs, and sharing purchasing or payroll services would not be easily achieved.
“It’s not as simple as it sounds,” Mr. Bixhorn added. “It would take quite a bit of planning.”
Even so, it’s worth pursuing, said Lynne Krausa, president of North Fork United Schools.
“Given the economic reality of the times, it’s imperative that we pursue these options,” she said. “Taxes are one of the biggest concerns out here and we need to be mindful of that. We are in a brand new era and its time for creative thinking, putting our heads together and really working together.”