Rural schools seek grant for shared services

Recorder Staff
Published: 7/27/2017 9:38:33 PM

BUCKLAND — A common problem for small, rural school districts is that professional services may be needed for a fraction of the time that bigger school systems require.This means small schools have to find qualified personnel willing to take on part-time jobs for lower pay and benefits. But what if several small school systems could share the services of a full-time superintendent, business manager or bookkeeper?

The Massachusetts Rural Schools Coalition would like to form an online platform that lets school districts share services, creating an economy of scale and saving money. The coalition is calling this online platform the “Massachusetts Rural Public Schools Shared Services Center,” and the group will be applying to the state for a grant to start a pilot project online.

One goal is to set up a website where rural public schools could share information about both “excess service capacity” and “services needed.”

A data base would be set up based on the school districts’ profiles, identifying potential shared services partners and matching supply with demand. Email alerts would be sent automatically to participating rural school district contact persons, identifying potential partners and their contact information.

“While the context is obviously different, the concept … could be reasonably compared to a dating service website, matching rural public school districts,” says an outline of the project, provided by Mohawk/Hawlemont Superintendent Michael Buoniconti, who chairs the coalition.

If the pilot project proves successful, the goal is to eventually establish a state-run shared services center that could function “as a human resource employment agency, but geared to school districts,” Buoniconti said in a telephone interview. “It could be one-stop shopping. Down the road, I could easily see it being useful to urban and suburban school systems.”

“There can be centralized payroll and bookkeeping functions. Much work can be done remotely that used to be done on-site,” he said.

For instance, before the state’s middle-mile broadband came to rural towns, the Mohawk Trail Regional School District had three full-time technology specialists, who spent a lot of time “on the road,” driving to the five Mohawk schools within the 250 square-mile school district. But after getting high-speed broadband, the technology specialists were able to work from a centralized location — enabling Mohawk to cut its costs for administration technology in half: A technology director and two systems administration technicians were replaced by one systems administration specialist, five technology liaisons and an on-demand network engineer.

This summer, the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has started a RADAR (Resource Allocation and District Action Reports) grant program, offering grants of between $25,000 to $50,000 to 10 individual school districts, and up to $100,000 for groups of school districts that apply together.


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