Athens Meigs Resource Center Looks At Shared Services Possibility

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With more than 9,000 square miles, Southeast Ohio is larger than the state of New Jersey.
Every day, school districts in the 18 counties in the region send out busses to take kids to school, traveling more than 330,000 miles.
The cost is enormous and it's something Rick Edwards knows all too well.  Edwards is Superintendent of the Athens Meigs Educational Resource Center. "What we're looking at is, is there a way for us to leverage the mileage, the cost, the square miles, and all those aspects, to leverage a more efficient operation and reduce costs while serving school districts and students better in the region," says Edwards.
Edwards and his counterparts have formed the Southeast Ohio Regional Shared Service Center Collaborative to try to reduce transportation and other expenses. "To work on part of what the governor's director of 21st century education put forward is asking schools and local government agencies to consolidate some of our services and to see what we can do about cost efficiency and program efficiency," Edwards explained.
The Collaborative effort recently was endorsed by the Ohio Department of Education, which announced a $250,000 grant. "The core group of the collaborative has been meeting for several months now, doing the planning process and so forth, so we're meeting on at least a monthly basis.  We have some work teams that are going to get started now that the award has begun," said Edwards.
The grant is one of only two in the state and was awarded, quote, "to implement innovative shared-services programs that could serve as a model for Ohio's 614 school districts. Shared bus routing for some students is one part of the plan.
"There are certain restrictions that will be in play when we start talking about how we could cross over, insurance, those kinds of things. What we might be able to do is acquire some software programs that might help districts route their bus routes using some electronic method that will make it more efficient so maybe we don't have redundant routes where two busses are going down the same road unless it's absolutely necessary. Just some ways to really look at the efficiency of the operations and how we're duplicating somethings," he says.  
The Southeastern Ohio Regional Service Center Collaborative also wants to reduce the cost of technology through the adoption of standardized equipment, cooperative, bulk purchasing, and consolidation of data centers.
The consortium serves 112,000 students in 65 school districts and Edwards says they should benefit directly in the classroom.
"It's more about evolving our technology into 21st century technologies with, you know, online or cloud environments, making us less reliant on local hardward devices and able to share information in online, or cloud environments a little bit easier, looking toward what we may need to do in the future. We'll see some more granular impact on a classroom environment depending on how sophisticated the needs or wants or desires of the building or classroom teacher. Certainly now, kids are going out with cloud environments in their life and we just maybe need to move toward that. I don't know how many schools in our region are doing cloud computing, storage, those kinds of things. It's definitely something we need to look toward," Edwards says.
By developing projects to improve efficiencies the group could save millions of dollars. One of the group's goals is a 10 percent reduction in the cost of transportation. Edwards says this expanded use of shared services is not happening just with school districts. Other government agencies are getting on board, too. "The focus right now is primarily around schools and districts, but there will be some bleedover into some of our local govermental agencies and county agencies," said Edwards.