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Sharing Services Offers Cost Savings and Better Service, Claims N.Y. Survey

New York superintendents who shared services reported improved cost savings and service quality more so than improved student achievement, according to a new research brief, but all areas seem to benefit from the practice.

More than 2,200 local and appointed New York leaders were surveyed in 2013 in an effort to determine the degree to which school districts were participating in shared service arrangements as well as the obstacles they faced, the partners they engaged, and the outcomes of the sharing. The six-page research brief, "Shared School Services: A Common Response to Fiscal Stress," covers those findings.

Shared services are a hot issue in New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed a two-year freeze on property taxes; the state would provide tax rebates only to homeowners who live in an area that has implemented a shared services or administrative consolidation plan.

"Now, if you want funding from the state—more importantly, if you want the people in your district to get a tax credit from the state—you're going to have to take concrete steps vis-à-vis shared services and consolidation," Cuomo said in a Times Union story about the proposal. "If you don't want to, don't do it. But then the people in your district don't get the tax credit, and you'll have to explain to them why they didn't."

New York's school districts are facing cuts in state money and property tax caps, and fiscal stress has resulted in 87 percent of districts cutting personnel and 67 percent reducing services, according to the research brief. Ninety percent of the state's districts share at least one service, and school districts share on average 16 of the 26 services measured in the survey. Municipalities shared fewer services on average (eight of 29).

"High need" as well as "average" rural school districts were more likely to share services (59 percent) than "city" or "low need" districts (46 percent). School districts most frequently share health insurance, summer school, and joint-purchasing.

Sharing in areas such as curriculum, technology and special education had the smallest effect on improving student achievement, according to the brief.

The obstacles districts face vary depending on their locations, but generally those included: liability/risk and accountability concerns, state and legal regulations, and job loss.

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