Cost, transparency issues a priority for new LIU director
After a summer tour meeting with all 25 superintendents of school districts under Lincoln Intermediate Unit 12, new executive director Jeffrey West relayed his main takeaways, which included addressing cost and transparency.
“I called it my listening tour,” he said, noting that his main goal was to learn about district needs.
Before West was hired in February, the intermediate unit did not have the best relationship with all of its school districts. Some had reported issues with billing transparency and high price points to meet rising special education needs.
In fact, several districts have created in-house programs or contracted with outside providers such as Laurel Life rather than accept the LIU expenses.
Dover Area Superintendent Tracy Krum said she shared with West this summer that her district was looking for more transparency in costs — being able to look at a bill and know exactly what goes into it.
"Say it cost me $18,000 for one of my life skills kids to go to one of my programs in another district," she said. In the past, it has been difficult to tell what portion of that cost went toward salaries for teachers and aides, technology and other expenses, she said.
This summer, West made it a point to begin addressing these issues.
A task force including representatives from Dallastown Area, Spring Grove Area, Dover Area, Southern York County, Hanover Public, Red Lion Area and York Suburban school districts met three times this summer to develop "business rules" for LIU 12.
The three main goals of the rules are a district budget model that is understandable, allows for superintendents and business managers to project LIU costs and holds LIU accountable in terms of programs and costs, West said.
The drafted rules will go to all 25 superintendents in districts LIU serves, then to all business managers and special education managers in January, at which point they will have the opportunity to review them, he said.
But transparency issues were not a concern for all York County districts.
Hanover Public Superintendent John Scola said there have "always been concerns with cost," but not so much transparency issues.
Though his district's previous administration had some concerns with LIU, South Western Superintendent Jay Burkhart said he did not know what they were, and in recent years the intermediate unit has been transparent and accurate in billing.
Spring Grove Area Superintendent George Ioannidis said he'd like to see more efficient organization and best costs — and an urgency on the leadership team to figure out the impact of those costs.
“I think he really is the right person for the LIU right now,” Krum said of West, noting he was very forward-thinking and collaborative and wanted to work with all of the districts.
The summer superintendent meetings were more social, she said — an opportunity to get to know what each district was struggling with and learn what LIU 12 could do to help.
West reported that collectively out of all the districts, he saw a need for more psychological and mental health services, and he looked at ways to work with districts to address a substitute teacher shortage.
"Mental health needs are on the rise in these districts," he said.
But six main areas of focus came out of those meetings: cost reduction, leadership, adding value, addressing training needs, providing additional needed services and building trust, he said.
One way to reduce costs that was discussed was a consortium model, in which districts collaborate and share funds, partner with businesses and seek external funding sources through LIU 12, such as grants.
Hanover Public has already worked with Conewago Valley School District, in Adams County, and Spring Grove Area School District to divide out resources for a reduced cost, Scola said.
Ioannidis noted that he's more open to collaboration.
"We here at Spring Grove may have the same need that a district in Franklin County may have," he said.
In terms of leadership, districts are looking for LIU 12 to get out in front of the issues, be innovative and improve regional outreach. West said LIU can add value to districts by diversifying its offerings and providing things districts can't get elsewhere.
West said he hopes to provide professional development and training as needed, such as marketing and communication for smaller districts.
Krum said Dover partnered with LIU when it brought in its iPads two or three years ago, providing some training and working closely with teachers — which was a huge help to move the district forward.
"I'm excited for Dr. West," said York City Superintendent Andrea Berry, noting that West is very much student-focused.