After sitting in on the joint meeting of the Palo Alto and Emmet County Boards of Supervisors a week ago, I was encouraged and perhaps even somewhat excited about what may lie ahead for our little corner of the world.
How many years has it been now that school districts across the state have been urged, if not almost bribed, so to speak, by the State Department of Education to share administrators instructors, classes and programs in the interest of providing (A) better educational opportunities for students and (B) saving taxpayer dollars in times of rising costs and a difficult economy.
Obviously, the tactic has worked, as you now see all kinds of sharing agreements going on between neighboring school districts. Some are involved in whole-grade sharing of students, other share sports and activities. There are shared administrators, instructors and personnel, such as maintenance directors and transportation coordinators. In some of those arrangements, after a period of sharing, districts have reorganized into one joint district a case in point is the Graettinger/Terril Community School District, which successfully reorganized after several years of whole-grade sharing.
The key thing to remember about all of these arrangements is that two entities realized that they would be able to provide better service to their constituents by working together, rather than trying to maintain two completely duplicated programs.
This is the same idea that the Palo Alto and Emmet County Supervisors are examining and thinking about after their joint session last Tuesday. As Palo Alto County Board Chair Keith Wirtz stated, counties were being encouraged to look at what they could do with their neighbors to share services as far back as two years ago. Emmet County Board Chair Bev Juhl said it best when she stated that her take on the joint meeting was "to see in the future what possibilities there might be to save some money and share some things between our two counties,"
In short the driving force of the gathering was to brainstorm some ways save some money money that comes from the pockets of the taxpayers you and me, and continue to provide the services that the taxpayers want and expect.
Emmet County Supervisor Alan Madden was right up front when he stated that the two boards should look at combining every service that they could, and know that doing so, it could lead to the "M" word merger. "That would be the death knell for this if we'd shoot for that right away, but I believe that should be a long, long range goal."
Madden along with the other supervisors agreed that idea needed to be placed out on the table for everyone to see and think about, because the public, the people paying the bills with their tax dollars, need to know what's being thought about, and must be allowed to offer their thoughts, suggestions and opinions on the idea.
That attitude deserves commendation. These local elected officials are asking us what we would like to see happen. They're giving the people a chance to be heard the whole concept of government by the people and for the people. They understand that what they do may result in change, and they want their constituents to understand the motivation and consequences of change.
It was mentioned during last week's meeting that the two boards need to be proactive in looking at sharing, because knowing the state's penchance for "Regulating and Ordering," it would be better to have local governments begin sharing and working together on their own terms, rather than have the state come in and "shove it down our throats," as was commented.
The two boards have established a "Think Group" to look at the basic question of what services could be shared, for starters. The group will do some investigating, get answers and report back on June 7 when the two boards meet again. For now, our supervisors are thinking hard about what might be. There may be hard decisions to make, but then again, there may be some massive good to come from these talks.