Liberty Local Schools has declining enrollment. Mathews Local Schools has aging buildings. And Brookfield Local Schools is working under a fiscal emergency.
Is there a way the schools can work together to improve them all?
That’s the question officials from each school are seeking to answer in talks about sharing services.
Mathews Superintendent Lew Lowery initiated the discussions over the summer after his district failed for the fifth time to get voter support for new school buildings, said Brookfield school Superintendent Velina Jo Taylor. His board asked him to contact abutting districts to talk consolidation, she said. Only Brookfield and Liberty responded positively, she said.
Lowery went to Brookfield and Liberty to explain the consolidation process.
“It’s very involved,” Taylor said. “Years in the making. A number of ballot issues.”
Because of the complexity of consolidation, Liberty Superintendent Joseph Nohra suggested widening the talks to include opportunities for sharing services, she said.
Through Liberty’s membership in the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, the superintendents were made aware by the chamber’s Guy Coviello of a state grant program in which the state auditor general’s office would audit the schools to look for opportunities for sharing services, she said.
The schools are working with the auditor’s office in preparing a grant application.
The talks should be far-reaching, looking at such things as administration, transportation and academic offerings.
“There are some that are, in my opinion, dreams, and there are some that are pretty realistic in what we can do,” Taylor said.
To a certain extent, the schools have looked to help each other in the past, she said. When Brookfield found itself short a bus driver this year, it made an agreement to take Trumbull Career and Technical Center students to Mathews, who would then transport them to TCTC, she said. That freed up the Brookfield driver to come back to Brookfield and handle a regular morning bus route.
There could be opportunities to expand the education offerings to students through these talks, Taylor said. With Brookfield only offering Spanish as a foreign language, there may be a way to hire a full-time teacher of another language and have that teacher spend the morning in one district and the afternoon in another, she said.
“It could afford us some things that we don’t have the ability to offer our kids right now,” she said.
Taylor said she wants to explore sharing a school psychologist, which would allow Brookfield to stop outsourcing that service to the Trumbull County Educational Service Center.
Brookfield officials would need to see study recommendations by spring in order to implement any of them next year, but the talks are worth pursuing even if it takes longer to conduct the study, Taylor said.