Seven mostly rural school districts in the same New York county have committed to working together to ease the pressure on their cash-strapped budgets.
The districts—Argyle, Cambridge, Fort Ann, Granville, Hartford, Hudson Falls and Salem—all operate in Washington County, a roughly 837 square mile area on the state's eastern border that's largely agricultural. It doesn't have any cities within its borders.
The districts already had been informally sharing services and pooling resources, and they commissioned a study last year to focus on ways those efforts could be targeted, expanded, and refined.
The 62-page Washington County school districts study was published in November and completed by Capital Area School Development Association, the field arm of the University at Albany's school of education.
The districts have made significant financial cuts during the past three years, which is true for many New York schools. A 2011 property-tax cap has reduced school districts' ability to raise money, and rural areas have the additional challenges of declining enrollment and demographic changes, according to the study.
The report recommended creating a county collaborative to facilitate sharing. As part of that, regional clusters should be created to increase academic opportunities for students.
The report suggests creating shared positions that would serve all districts or certain clusters, such as special education director, human resources director, registrar, and professional development and curriculum directors.
The districts also might consider offering online courses with shared faculty, which has been done on a limited basis. One of the biggest obstacles to doing that is the lack of a common bell schedule among districts, and the report suggests seriously considering that.
The involved districts appear to be taking the recommendations to heart. A recent news article in the Glenn Falls Post-Star in Glenn Falls, N.Y., described a recent meeting of the superintendents to discuss some of the report's recommendations.
This isn't the first time we've heard about rural New York districts struggling with funding. Last year, leaders in those areas said they were running out of ways to cut their budgets and maintain educational quality.
It will be interesting to see whether we hear of more rural districts considering the same ideas as these New York districts, specifically collaborating to increase their efficiency and prevent further consolidation.