Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Con Ed: A Plan To Lower School Costs On Long Island

Suozzi Suggests The Consolidation Of Educational Services To Save Taxpayer $$

Call it Con Ed -- The consolidation of services common to Long Island's all too many school districts.

Transportation. Insurance. Legal. A host of noninstructional matters that can be handled -- and negotiated -- by a single administrative body, rather than by dozens (56 in Nassau alone) separate school districts.

Could a centralized system do it more effectively, reducing costs and streamlining processes?


Would it?

That remains to be seen.

Just as bigger is not always better, one out of many, while sounding true in theory and looking good on paper, doesn't always equate with either efficiency or savings.

Still, Suozzi has put an idea, whose time has come and gone and come again over the years, out there for consideration, and consider we must.

Surely, there is greater bargaining power in the marketplace when one represents the many. Then, too, there is greater opportunity for massive blunder, if not bureaucratic malaise, having removed at least some aspects of the decision-making process from -- dare we say it -- local control.

In any case, doing nothing -- tantamount to getting less while paying more and more and more -- is not an option.

Time to put those thinking caps (if not budget caps) on, and ponder a future where taxpayers get more for their school dollars by being both efficient and effective locally. At the same time, we need the folks in Albany to begin to think more globally -- or at least on a uniform state-wide basis -- vis-a-vis the allocation of aid to schools, fully funding the education of all of our children, without bankrupting their parents.
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Editorial: Take Suozzi school-services consolidation seriously

Local governance of the public school is a canon law of suburbia. But to keep this firm control of their classrooms and their fields, Long Islanders must consider changing the way their districts go about doing business. Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi, whose second nature is to mine for bold ideas to solve problems, outlined a very worthwhile proposal to centralize some costly school services last night in his annual State of the County message. Suozzi is targeting such services as legal representation, transportation, purchasing and payroll, all of which hold ample promise for cost-cutting.

A recent report by the Suffolk County Legislature also finds the potential for significant savings from consolidation of services. The case for each county to have a single law office to handle routine legal work and contract negotiations seems already to have been made by recent disclosures in this newspaper of how millions of dollars in fees are being paid to a few firms specializing in education law.

One of Suozzi's first steps in developing a model for centralization is to determine whether the existing BOCES operation, which has never fulfilled its mission to provide substantial shared services, is up to the job.

Just last week, a state audit of Nassau BOCES found lax oversight and money misspent on meals, travel and cars. So the structure may be useful, but its governance should be overhauled before an experimental program can start.

Consolidation of an estimated $1.9 billion in the business operations of Nassau's 56 school districts will require changes in state law and regulations, as well as deft political leadership.

School superintendents and their boards need to buy into the plan, and so do the people who complain about their taxes but are reluctant to change anything about their schools.

Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.

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