Consolidation of County and School Services

By Hammer, Bradford | Public Management, January 1994 | Go to article overview

Consolidation of County and School Services

Hammer, Bradford, Public Management

Often, local governments and their school districts have separate, stand alone administrators and support staffs who do not work together or share duties and equipment. As a result, higher costs are passed on to citizens because of a general failure to share scarce financial resources.

Rather than perpetuate overlapping programs and support staff functions, the Chesterfield County, Virginia, County Board Liaison Committee and School Board created an ad hoc Future Consolidation Committee (FCC) in 1992. The FCC, comprised of two citizen appointees and two senior county staff members, was given the mission to analyze how greater economies of scale could be achieved through increased consolidation of county and school services.

Currently, Chesterfield County has consolidated financial management, data processing, fleet management, mail/courier and storage services with its schools, which is projected to result in over $200,000 of savings for fiscal year 1993. By applying FCC's study criteria of Save Funds; Avoid Redundant Costs; Make Better Use of Facilities; and Avoid Future Expenses, it evaluated new areas including construction management, printing services, grounds management, public relations, demographic projecting and planning, legislative services, social and psychological services, vocational training, and economic development. The FCC met with department heads to determine pitfalls in current service delivery and to brain storm recommendations for reform. Their analysis and recommendations follow.

Construction management. Because the county and schools operated separate building construction divisions, the expertise that existed in various trade areas was not being used effectively. For example, one school inspector was an expert on roofing systems and would be valuable to the county on various projects. Likewise, the county had developed expertise in structural problems and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems that could be used by schools.

Both organizations realized that they had a common nemesis: the county's planners and community development regulators! By working more closely, both could do better site planning and work more effectively with development regulations. This would save time, money, and bureaucratic hassle.

The result of the construction management study was a set of recommendations dealing with the coordination of personnel, consultants, and facilities. Although the FCC did not recommend immediate consolidation of these functions, it did see the potential of a joint operation before the next bond referendum.

Printing services. Both the county and schools had large print shops supporting their departments. Both shops were experiencing the same problems: the need for new replacement equipment, the need to promote high-technology graphics solutions, and the challenge to produce more with less staff and fewer budget resources. The FCC members liked the county's approach to printing, which called for allowing departments to bid outside printing against the county's costs to get the "most bang for the buck." As a result, the FCC recommended competitive comparison bidding for all printing jobs and suggested that the two print shops share the same customers. This approach would make the most effective use of existing equipment and personnel. It also would open the door to joint equipment purchasing because of the broader base of customers and demand.

Grounds management. The committee found that maintenance of grounds was a complicated and dispersed function across the spectrum of county and school programs. In the case of schools, three different groups cut grass: the athletic group (coaches and associations), the custodians, and the central school maintenance staff. Each group had their own turf. In the case of the county, parks, public buildings, libraries, and fire stations all were being maintained by separate departments. All of these groups needed better equipment, and all were ferrying equipment around the county, using scarce resources and time. …

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