To the editor:
As district superintendent for the Onondaga-Cortland-Madison Board of Cooperative Educational Services (OCM BOCES), I am writing today to heartily applaud the efforts of Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney and members of her shared services panel for their efforts to improve government efficiency and lower costs for local taxpayers.
OCM BOCES is pleased to be participating on this panel. In fact, shared services have been the essence of our organization for more than 65 years. Under the county’s shared services plan, OCM BOCES is introduced with the words, “Anything that OCM BOCES does is done as a shared service between two or more school districts.” In that same document, an abbreviated appendix of our shared services for school districts stretches across three pages, with more than 100 services listed. These programs include instructional support for teachers; student programs such as special education, alternative education and career and technical education; labor relations; management services; and an abundance of technological and instructional support through our Central New York Regional Information Center. In every category, our goals are the same: to improve achievement for all students and to do it in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
Why so many services? OCM BOCES was created in 1948 for the exact purpose of providing shared services across school district boundaries. “Shared services” is who we are and what we do. The resistance I have heard regarding “shared services” in our region when OCM BOCES has been doing this successfully for nearly seven decades often puzzles me.
The fact is, shared services save money and allow school districts to put tax dollars where it matters most: advancing student achievement. In 2015-16, OCM BOCES saved 23 component districts more than $50 million through cooperative business services alone. That included $977,134 for gas and electrical purchases; $1.97 million in workers’ compensation savings; $3.35 million in cooperative purchases; and a whopping $44.44 million through the CNY Health Insurance cooperative.
The financial model for OCM BOCES, as for other BOCES across the state, might be one to consider on a larger scale. If a school district is interested in a service at OCM BOCES, the two organizations sign a cooperative service agreement. That purchase, in turn, is often eligible for state aid. If a district does not want a service, it simply does not opt to buy it. In addition, at OCM BOCES, we partner with school districts to constantly assess, customize and improve the services where they need them most.
As the first phase of Onondaga County’s shared services panel comes to an end, I would like to commend the contributions of everyone involved. I would also like to encourage them – and our community – to look to OCM BOCES for the positive benefits that are possible when municipal entities cooperate and work together.
Jody Manning, Ed.D.
District Superintendent and CEO, OCM BOCES
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.