Eastside districts find ways to save by sharing

Oct 27, 2015

The Lake and Peninsula and Bristol Bay Borough School Districts team up to provide career & vocational courses, sports events, teacher inservices, and even some specialized personnel. 

In October 2015, students from Lake and Peninsula and Bristol Bay Borough schools gathered in Naknek for a week of career and technical education (CTE) courses.
Credit Lake and Peninsula School District Facebook

With more state budget cuts on the horizon, schools districts are under pressure to keep educating kids while squeezing into smaller budgets. Two districts on the eastside of Bristol Bay have been cutting costs by teaming up. 

Bristol Bay Borough Superintendent Bill Hill has long heard cries for more vocational training in his community. Students wanted to learn engine repair, web design, welding – skills that were in demand in the neighboring Lake and Peninsula Borough Schools, too. But, Hill says, neither district could make it happen on their own. 

"So we joined forces, and went out and looked for funding together," says Hill, "and we developed a program that brings basically  a 50-50 mix of students from Lake and Pen and the Bristol Bay Borough to the Bristol Bay Borough campus." 

Last fall, the two districts began offering a Career and Technical Education program. Several times a year, students travel to Naknek to complete a week of vocational courses for high school or college credit.

"We keep ‘em really busy from morning to night, and they get a lot out of that time together," said Hill "We see this as a win-win. We have a program that Bristol Bay can house, and Lake and Pen can help organize, and it provides a wide array of courses that are very responsive to industry needs in our area.”

This fall the CTE program even expanded to include a handful of students from a third district, Southwest Region Schools. 

LPSD and BBBSD students learned Microsoft Office skills during a CTW session in October 2015.
Credit Lake and Peninsula School District Facebook

And the CTE program is just one of the ways that Lake and Pen and Bristol Bay save costs by teaming up. 

They also co-host sports events and teacher in-services. And they’ve been sharing staff members.

"One of them of course is our federal programs person, Jim Dube," explained Hill. "He works for both districts, and is very highly qualified person. He's able to bring a very high level of service to our district at a reduced cost. So we get a lot of bang for our buck." 

The district now spends less than 2/3rds of what it used to on the federal programs position.

Hill says seeking efficiencies like this is a recognition of a grim financial reality for Alaska schools – things aren’t going to get better anytime soon.

And while cost-sharing efforts have created strong ties between the Bristol Bay and Lake & Pen, Hill is quick to quell any fears that the two might lose their identities as independent districts.

"We’re not talking about consolidation, we’re talking about cooperation, we’re talking about to send more resources to our classrooms, and less for instance on district office," says Hill. "You know, the heart and soul is the school board and community. It’s not necessarily some of the functional pieces like the superintendent or a business manager."

Hill says it’s hard to put a number on the savings the district has reaped through various cost-sharing efforts. But he’ll continue to look for ways to save by working together. 

Contact the author at hannah@kdlg.org.