Two of the largest school districts in Kansas have formed an unusual partnership that has saved some jobs and increases the efficiency of sharing data on such matters as student performance.
The partnership between districts in Topeka and Wichita is rare because it combines work from two districts that are not adjacent to each other, said Bob Winkler, the consultant hired to oversee the data and evaluation services for both districts.
The number of similar partnerships is likely to grow as more financially struggling school districts try to save money, said Dale Dennis, the finance director for the Kansas education department.
“It’s growing in popularity due to efficiencies,” Mr. Dennis said of the idea. “Local school boards want what’s best for kids. It isn’t about ego. It’s what’s best for the best dollar.”
Before the current school year, the Wichita district agreed to pay the Topeka district $140,000 a year to cover salaries of six data staff members who worked for nine months. The new money allowed the employees to work year round, analyzing data and producing reports for both districts.
The reports will include building-specific data not previously available, Mr. Winkler said. The data are expected to help teachers, administrators, and the two boards of education monitor student achievement and make timelier decisions on curriculum and instruction.
“They can focus on making plans instead of looking for a particular piece of data,” Mr. Winkler said.
While many school districts have agreements to share the costs of such services as transportation, food, and special education, the Wichita and Topeka districts are hundreds of miles apart. Technology made the partnership possible.
“We’ve got 50,000 students [with Topeka having an estimated 14,000 students],” Wichita Superintendent John Allison said. “This partnership is going to impact 64,000 students across the state, and I think that’s tremendous.”
Mr. Allison said his district made an estimated $14 million in budget cuts and eliminated 120 positions last year. The $140,000 Wichita is paying to Topeka is not a large amount, but Mr. Allison said the district is getting data analysis for about half the previous cost.
“It’s five more teachers we didn’t have to think about in our budget reductions,” he said. “It’s cutting costs but still providing services.”
A version of this article appeared in the October 13, 2010 edition of Education Week as Kansas Districts See Savings in Teaming on Data Systems