Nevada and Colo-Nesco districts find strength in sharing

Marlys Barker

In the early days of the 2015-16 school year, school board members at Nevada and Colo-Nesco have approved two significant sharing agreements. First they approved the sharing of technology staff; just recently they approved the sharing of a director of transportation/chief mechanic. (See related story on Jason Sampson.)

All of this sharing has created a bit of a buzz in the communities about just what, exactly, is going on.

Both Nevada Superintendent Dr. Steve Gray and C-N Superintendent Dr. Jim Verlengia are quick to point out that this has nothing to do with whole-grade sharing or consolidation. They say it’s about neighboring school districts working together to operate in the most fiscally efficient ways possible and to provide a quality education for the children in each district.

“People get worried that we’re going to be absorbed by Nevada,” said Verlengia. “It’s not about that. We’re reaching out to Nevada to see what we can do.”

So far, a couple areas for sharing have made sense. Take for instance the most recent agreement for a shared director of transportation/chief mechanic. The director of transportation for a school district is one of seven areas or positions within a school district where the state will now provide funds for sharing. Both districts, by sharing the transportation position, get the equivalent of what they’d get for five additional students (in state funding), which is a little over $32,000 for each district. They can draw that money for up to five years if they continue to share that position.

There are other operational areas that also can draw state funds for sharing. Those positions are: superintendent, business manager, buildings and grounds director, human resources director, curriculum director and counselors. Since Nevada and Colo-Nesco have begun an operational sharing agreement with their tranportation director, their five-year window has now been opened. Any of the other areas that might be added in after this year will get funding for the remainder of that five-year period.

Sharing of technology services, which was approved prior to the first day of school, does not qualify under these operational areas, but it was an area where Verlengia said it made sense for his district to purchase services from Nevada. Colo-Nesco’s IT person left on short notice and Verlengia said he was thankful that he could reach out to Nevada, which “has three very capable people on staff,” to help with technology. “They came to us in our hour of need, and I always compliment Steve and his board on being willing to do that,” Verlengia added.

Gray said Nevada was more than happy to help. “Colo-Nesco was able to get the services they needed; and there’s a financial benefit for Nevada … we are able to provide those employees and we have money coming in. And a lot of the technology work can be done remotely,” Gray said.

While the technology people spend most of their work hours at the Nevada site, they are available to Colo-Nesco at any time and can often help out remotely with issues that arise.

Verlengia said the cost savings, when it comes to not paying an entire salary and benefits for its own IT person, is one benefit to his district, but there are other benefits, too. “To gain the expertise is just excellent. Both John Kruse and Joe Wakeman were over a number of times helping us with e-rate, imaging our computers and other needs. Joe (director of technology) has stepped in to help us build a plan for the future of technology. And Carrie (Hillman, a technology integration specialist) is another entity we never had,” Verlengia said, noting that it benefits C-N teachers to have a person who can help them find more ways to use technology in their classrooms.

What’s ahead?

When asked if there is more sharing ahead for the two districts, both superintendents said there have been discussions about it.

Perhaps the biggest item on the list is the superintendency position for Colo-Nesco. Verlengia, who has filled the role for five years on a sharing agreement with Heartland AEA (where he also is employed), will complete his time at Colo-Nesco at the end of this school year.

“Our board has looked at hiring a superintendent, having another interim superintendent or possibly sharing a superintendent,” Verlengia said. He said the districts have also been talking about other areas of possible sharing between them, which Verlengia said he believes is proactive on the part of the C-N school board. “Before they get themselves into the (financial) situation of having to do something drastic, I think it is responsible of the board to look at all the options they can,” he said.

Gray said Nevada has had informal discussions about a potential shared superintendency and there may be joint meetings between the boards in the future to discuss it further. If Gray became superintendent for both districts, he said he is fortunate to have come from a background of sharing. Gray was at Janesville as superintendent prior to Nevada and Janesville shared many things with Waverly-Shellrock. “I was the Colo-Nesco (smaller school) in that situation and both districts benefited tremendously. We saved dollars, and gained services (at Janesville) and Waverly-Shell Rock also benefitted financially,” he said. “I’ve seen how it can work to strengthen both districts.”

In addition to positions, Nevada and Colo-Nesco have shared in sports through wrestling, when Colo-Nesco didn’t have enough student wrestlers to have a team. “That’s the beauty of sharing. (For those kids who want to wrestle) things aren’t eliminated for them just because of our size. They can still be part of something,” Verlengia said.

Both superintendents are also in favor of sharing classes that might have openings. If Nevada has a class that a Colo-Nesco student wants to take, but it isn’t offered at Colo-Nesco, Nevada will accept a student to take it as long as it hasn’t been filled by Nevada students. Gray said much of this type of sharing was also part of his previous experience at Janesville.

To Gray, the most important part in all of the sharing that happens is that it allows districts of all sizes to be strong, because ultimately that benefits kids. “There are things kids can get at Colo-Nesco that they don’t get at Nevada or Ames,” and the same is true of the fact that kids can get certain things at the larger districts that they can’t get at the smaller ones. And Gray believes districts of different sizes sometimes fit individual students better. “I think it’s important for all kids that we have strong districts of all sizes,” Gray said. And he believes sharing agreements help meet that goal, while allowing each individual district to remain on its own.

“We hope (the sharing with C-N) is successful. If it doesn’t work, we’re not bound to it… But if we didn’t think it could work, we wouldn’t have gone down this road. There’s little risk, but there’s great reward,” Gray said.

Verlengia agrees that the reward outweighs the risk. “Both Steve and I and the boards want [the sharing] to be successful. And the people in those roles are dedicated to children and are quality people. My objective would be that (the sharing) would be in place a long time and be very successful for both districts.”