School boards look to shared services

WHEELING – Boards of education in the Northern Panhandle already partner on many services, but they think sharing an attorney to address legal questions would be a good idea.

School officials representing Hancock, Brooke, Ohio, Marshall and Wetzel counties gathered at Oglebay Park’s Wilson Lodge on Thursday for a regional meeting sponsored by the West Virginia School Board Association. The five counties comprise Regional Education Service Agency 6.

The WVSBA is hosting similar meetings across the state to allow school districts to brainstorm on how they can best partner to share costs.

Each of the 55 counties in the Mountain State has one school district, and there has been some talk these could be reduced to as few as eight, said WVSBA Executive Director Howard M. O’Cull. Ohio has 612 school districts and Pennsylvania, 500.

O’Cull said it is unlikely the WVSBA will recommend reducing the number of districts when it submits its annual report to the State Board of Education on Sept. 8. Instead, it will encourage county boards to work together and with their RESA representatives to address service needs.

Last year, local school board members and administrators indicated a shared attorney among county school districts would be most beneficial to them, and they continued that thought Thursday night.

“We don’t have a legal department,” said Marshall County Board of Education member Lori Kestner. “We thought this would be an excellent way for us to save money.”

Hancock County Board of Education President Jerry Durante said last year’s recommendation should be looked at again.

“We recommended it last year, but no one has moved on it,” he said.

Ohio County Board of Education member Christine Carder said school districts are increasingly facing legal questions, especially in the area of personnel issues.

“We all probably have the same questions of law firms, and we’re all getting the same bills,” she said.

Working together is not new to the local school districts, as last year collective purchasing through RESA 6 saved the five county boards about $150,000 on milk and bread alone, according to RESA 6 Director Nick Zervos.

“It is not new for us to do this,” he said. “It’s what we can do when we work together.”