JOHNSTOWN - In the spirit of shared services, the Hamilton Fulton Montgomery Board of Cooperative Educational Services has joined a cooperative purchasing agreement that officials hope will save local school districts money both in product costs and time.
The Delaware-Chenango-Madison-Otsego BOCES has operated the service since 1992, encouraging a regional bidding process and offering schools the buying power of more than 50 districts and several municipalities.
The BOCES Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday to participate in the service.
David Aimone, director of operations at HFM BOCES, said component districts are not required to participate, but now they have the option to join the service.
If more than half the component districts join, there will be no fee for HFM BOCES, but districts will pay a fee to join.
Aimone said he wasn't sure what the cost would be otherwise and officials from DCMO BOCES could not be reached for comment.
According to the DCMO BOCES website, the service "enables participating districts and municipalities, large and small, to secure pricing and advantages of large volume purchasing through aggregated bidding."
The service offers cooperative bids on everything from computers to food and school supplies.
The service can save districts money through a large bidding pool, and also save staff time, the cost of legal ads and the potential legal risks of not complying with extensive laws and regulations regarding purchasing.
Some board members, like Louis Capece from Fort Plain, were concerned that local vendors might lose contracts since the bids won't be advertised in local news outlets.
Officials said districts that choose to join can select the bids they participate in and keep local vendors as they choose and that joining the agreement might open local vendors' options to bid for larger purchases.
A push for shared services
HFM BOCES Superintendent Patrick Michel said that as officials address the problems with funding education, they will begin lobbying legislators to look at quirks in the law that, in some cases, discourage cooperation between districts.
Michel said two undisclosed component districts will begin exploring sharing transportation services, but already officials are aware of roadblocks in the law that provide disincentives for sharing services.
"Everybody pays lip service to consolidation, but they don't want to change the laws that prevent us from doing this," Michel said.
For example, Michel said, if one district pays another to use its transportation services, the second district loses that amount of state aid and the first district loses mileage aid.
Officials have already been reaching out to lawmakers about inequity in state aid.
"We reached in the closet and turned a light on. They discovered information they didn't know existed," said board member James Beirlein of Northville. "Like this transportation roadblock - it's more than just mandates. It's mandates upon mandates."
Michel said the steps toward consolidation would include combined management, shared cost of mechanics, a shared facility as well as a larger bidding pool that could save districts money.
Amanda Whistle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.