EDITORIAL: LIU task force a good start

York Dispatch Editorial Board

Lincoln Intermediate Unit 12’s costs are out of control, according to some York County school board members and administrators.

And the education services provider’s interim executive director agrees — even if he can’t explain the cause.

“There's definitely a cost problem," said Bruce Sensenig. "We're trying to get to the bottom of that."

It has gotten so out of hand that two of York County’s 14 participating school districts rejected LIU’s 2019-20 budget, and others are cutting back on its services.

"We're getting away from the IU because their costs have skyrocketed for this," said York Suburban Business Manager Corinne Mason, referring to a spike in cost for translating documents.

More:York County school districts question LIU costs, transparency

More:Meet the new director of York County's LIU 12

York Suburban has already taken back some special education students from the LIU and is providing those classes in-house.

Central York School District has done the same thing, with officials there estimating LIU classrooms would have added $4.3 million to its current budget.

York Tech senior Samantha Flickinger, right, blows bubbles to York Tech/LIU preschoolers Alyssa Monusov, left, 4, and Perry Jones, 4, Tuesday, April 4, 2017, at York County School of Technology. Flickinger, along with two other students Summer Schanberger and Cassandra Shermeyer, won a Gold medal at the FCCLA (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America), for advocating a change in regulation to allow volunteers from approved technical programs to work in a licensed childcare facility under the age of 16. Amanda J. Cain photo

Next year, the district will stop using LIU's transportation services in favor of the district's bus company.

The provider's staffing is another issue gnawing at some local school board members.

Dover Area's LIU board representative, Dennis Dacheux, questioned why LIU pays $4 million for 43 administrators, not including the director or assistant director, when Dover pays $2 million for 25.

The rising costs were too much for the Red Lion Area and Hanover Public school boards, which rejected LIU's next operating budget. 

"The idea behind the IU is so meaningful and could, in a very real sense, be an asset but it’s almost to the point where it’s become a liability," York Suburban board Vice President Lois Ann Schroeder said.

Yet just as galling as the unexplained price hikes is LIU’s response when school districts sought answers.

Some local superintendents requested an audit but were turned down by LIU, according to West York Superintendent Todd Davies.

As Scott Wilt, LIU’s assistant director of finance explains it, the provider doesn’t accept audit requests from special interest groups.

"We're not trying to hide anything," he said, noting the public has online access to all the budgets, a special education billing template and program cost calculations.

If that’s LIU’s response to funding sources’ request for accountability, it’s no wonder districts are pursuing other options. Who wouldn’t in the same situation?

For his part, Sensenig correctly noted that district officials should be provided with any information they request, suggesting a lack of communication could be to blame for the failure.

Whatever is behind the financial and transparency issues, it appears Lincoln Intermediate Unit has its work cut out for it if it wants to rebuild trust with local school boards (and keep or earn back their business).

A soon-to-form task force is a good start.

It will include superintendents, business managers and special education and technology volunteers to identify problems and come up with a plan to address them, according to Sensenig.

A key player in any solution likely will be incoming Executive Director Jeffrey West, who starts next month.

We hope he ensures the task force holds open meetings and all of its data, findings and recommendations are made public.

Then West can lead the changes that make Lincoln Intermediate Unit the asset local educators want and the community deserves.