Consolidating Utah County's three school districts may not be practical, but it may be advantageous for the districts to share services and materials.
At the request of the Legislature, Utah's school districts recently studied the feasibility of consolidating districts in each area of the state. Most districts found there would be little advantage to doing so.However, research does indicate that there are advantages in cooperation among neighboring districts. It makes teacher training more effective and efficient, and it saves money. Provo, Alpine and Nebo school district officials agree and say local students would benefit if the three districts cooperated in more areas.
"We should share ideas and cooperate in staff- and teacher-inservice programs," said Denis Poulsen, Nebo superintendent. "That way, the training does not have to be done in the three districts at three different times. We can all come together and do it once."
Cooperation between the districts would be coordinated through a Utah County Tri-district Regional Service Center. Local school officials are asking the Legislature to provide more than $100,000 in funding for the center's development. They say it could be one of the most effective means of improving education in Utah County.
The main purpose of the center would be to utilize all available resources to provide students with better learning opportunities and to implement programs that would make more effective use of resources. Through the center, the districts could also develop partnerships with businesses, industry, higher education and other public agencies.
"There are many advantages to cooperation among these three districts," Alpine Superintendent Steven Baugh said. "While the concept is still in the planning stages, we are confident that we can become more cost effective with tri-district cooperation in areas such as curriculum development, purchasing and business partnerships. Other areas such as public relations, testing, transportation and legal services will be investigated as we go along."
"The benefits that a center like this can provide are not just physical," Poulsen said. "We could offer progams that we're not offering now because of limitations."
The concept of a regional service center is not new. Currently 26 of Utah's 40 districts participate in a regional service center. However, most of the districts served by the service centers are rural. But educators are now saying that larger districts can benefit from the service centers as well.
"We think, especially in a valley like this, that we could do some of the same things and receive some of the same benefits," Poulsen said.
About 80 percent of all states have some type of regional service center network. A California study shows that the benefits of such centers are mostly related to the quality of education, because they provide schools with more teaching materials and give more students access to learning materials that they otherwise may not have.
"It would be nice to have all of the areas that are served by that kind of a facility," said Kay Laursen, Provo superintendent.
The Utah County Tri-district Regional Service Center would be operated according to state governing procedures, with a governing board composed of the superintendents of the three districts. The board would have complete autonomy for establishing the center's policy including determination of programs, staffing, financing, housing and other operational decisions.
However, each of the three school boards could meet semiannually to review the center's policy. Districts would retain the right to approve any costs passed on to them by the center. An advisory board, comprised of business leaders, higher education officials, teachers and administrators would also assist the center's board in making decisions.
Even though local school officials have asked the Legislature to support the service center, they agree that it may be a few years before one is approved. Preliminary budget reports indicate the state may not have enough funding for the center. And if it comes down to funding the center or providing more funds for teacher salaries, textbooks and supplies, local officials say they will support the latter.
"I think the maintenance and operating budget is definitely higher on the priority list," Poulsen said.
If the Legislature provides funding, programs offered by the center initially would be operated out of existing facilities. A permanent centralized building would someday be established once the center becomes more stable.
Services that could be provided by a Utah County Tri-district Educational Service Center:
- Curriculum development
- In-service training
- Public relations
- Media equipment
- Legal services
- Special education
- Business partnerships
- Food service
- Equipment maintenance