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Published: Wednesday, 2/14/2007

Schools ahead of curve on sharing

BY BENJAMIN ALEXANDER-BLOCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Gov. Jennifer Granholm has asked school districts statewide to consolidate their business services, saying schools that do this will get extra money while those that don't will be penalized in next year's fiscal budget.

In Monroe and Lenawee counties, technology is leading the way toward greater cross-district and county collaborations.

District officials indicated they were relieved by Ms. Granholm's address. Some officials had been speculating the governor might cut their per pupil foundation allowances because of the $377 million deficit in the state's school aid fund.

But the governor instead recommended raising the minimum foundation allowance - to $7,286 per pupil, an increase of $178 or 2.5 percent per pupil.

Bedford Public Schools Superintendent Jon White said he is optimistic after Ms. Granholm's state of the state speech, but he has learned not to count his chickens before, well, the hatchet hits the cutting block.

"I accept that the governor wants to help education, but I also understand that there is [a] political process that has to be followed," Mr. White said.

Ms. Granholm's 2008 budget proposes making $10 million available to school districts to help them establish more service-sharing agreements within intermediate districts

The state's 57 intermediate schools district are the entities charged with this mission - to spark and oversee collaborative ventures between districts.

Monroe County Intermediate School District Superintendent Don Spencer said his county is well head of the curve.

"I just hope we get credit for what we have been doing and the fact that we've already been collaborating doesn't somehow penalize us ... but there is always more that we can do," Mr. Spencer said.

Monroe County's district superintendents met last week to find ways to expand further on their collaborations.

In her state of the state address, Ms. Granholm said, "It doesn't make sense to have 10 school districts in a single county buying separate software when they can save dollars and cents buying it together."

The Lenawee/Monore Technology Consortium - run through both counties' Intermediate School Districts - recently implemented a new software system, Pentamation, for all 24 of its districts.

Phil Carolan, director of the technology consortium, said this software is used to implement school schedules, report cards, attendance data, and financial and accounting information.

He said the two counties share internet service fees, internet filtering services, and virus protection software.

In Monroe, the ISD also runs an interactive video network, a fiber-optic web that offers nine classes to about 250 students countywide.

Japanese, forensics, and advanced placement math are just a few of the classes broadcast throughout Intermediate School District. Mr. Spencer said the county hopes to add Chinese language classes next year.

There are other smaller consortiums in the county.

Summerfield, Whiteford, Bedford, Ida, and Dundee school districts are all members of the Southwest Monroe County Cooperative Consortium, which started more than 20 years ago to allow students to attend classes that were not available at their local districts.

Ida Public Schools Superintendent Marv Dick was teaching in Ida when this consortium began, and he acknowledges it may soon become obsolete because of new technologies.

"When it started, principals at these schools would get together and talk about ways that we could expand and offer classes that we wouldn't otherwise have," he said.

But he said technology has now changed the possibilities for expansion and interconnection.

"Students can now sit in these interactive video rooms and learn through this network," he said.

Beyond technology, there may also be social advantages to collaboration.

Michigan's Schools of Choice program allows students to enroll in districts where they are not residents, as long as those students reside within the same intermediate school district.

But in Monroe County, districts have a "gentleman's agreement" not to poach each others kids.

"This prevents our schools from being overly competitive, creating a winner and loser atmosphere that makes it very difficult to cooperate," Mr. Spencer said.



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