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VOL. 129 | NO. 96 | Friday, May 16, 2014

Germantown Schools Joins Shared Services Pact

By Bill Dries

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When the Germantown Municipal Schools board voted May 5 to not participate in three shared services agreements with the other five suburban school systems, it “strained” the school system’s relationship with the other five, Germantown Schools superintendent Jason Manuel told the board Wednesday, May 14.

It strained the relationship to such an extent that even though the school board reversed that decision Wednesday and approved participating in all eight shared services contracts, Manuel will ask the board to approve another resolution next week that specifically says Germantown is participating totally in the shared services.

The Germantown Schools district, including Houston High, will be part of a shared services pact with suburban districts.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

“We strained our relationship with the other municipalities,” Manuel told the board. “We can’t do this alone. … The other municipalities want to know that we are going to be good partners with them, that we are going to work with them, that we are going to share all of these services with them. It’s not an a la carte menu.”

There remains a dispute about whether that was clear to the board earlier this month.

School board Chairwoman Lisa Parker was part of a conference call Manuel participated in with the other five suburban superintendents the day after the school board’s initial decision. She says he “got grilled pretty much.”

The shared services are a tier of services that assume the duties of paperwork, scheduling and certification with the state and federal government for the six suburban school systems. The agreements also provide for common use of software essential to maintaining student and teacher records and the transfer of those records.

But they still allow for the systems to make separate decisions about items like what their cafeterias will serve and hire their own staff to run those functions at the district level.

The districts already have been working in the current school year with many of the shared services providers that the suburban systems would hire for the new school year.

Dan Haddow, the Germantown system’s chief of staff, said teachers at Riverdale Elementary School approached him and wanted to know what they could do to convince the board to participate in the services.

He added that not participating would betray a trust that those teachers and others working for the district have about the creation of the new system from the ground up.

“Once you betray that trust, people get surly,” Haddow told the board before agreeing with Manuel that opening schools in August would be much more difficult without the shared services. “Sometimes you need training wheels.”

Parker said she believes all of the suburban districts will eventually bring the management services in-house after the three-year contracts run their course. But she also acknowledged the difficulty of starting a new district from the ground up.

“I think what made us uncomfortable was the three-year contract,” Parker said of the shared services contracts. “Realistically these people are going to retire in three years. So if we don’t know what we’re doing by the end of three years – all of the municipalities by that time are going to have to pretty much learn how to do it. We’re going to have it and it’s going to be under our control in three years.”

School board member Ken Hoover said the board always recognized that it would have to participate in some shared services.

“We answered a question,” he said, referring to which services those would be. “The rules have changed.”

School board member Mark Dely said the three shared-services agreements the board turned down earlier involved “less complicated” services that he and two other board members on the five-member body thought the system could handle.

“But there probably isn’t a choice,” Dely said, adding that he feels like the school system is losing some autonomy.

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