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12-16-05 Time frame bad for combining counties educational services

By William Kincaid

  A dual county educational service center is impossible at this time, according to Mercer County Educational Service Center Superintendent Eugene Linton.

  Linton's comments come after Coldwater Superintendent Rich Seas publicly voiced interest about combining the Auglaize and Mercer County educational service centers into one.

  "He doesn't know a lot about our ESC because he's never been there," Linton said about Seas. "Rich doesn't have that understanding."

  Seas said in a Daily Standard article Thursday that this would be a good time to see if the two centers could be combined, as Linton will retire from the Mercer County ESC at the end of the month.

  Mercer County ESC started a superintendent search on Dec. 2, as Linton's vacancy was announced. Candidates have until Jan. 13 to submit their applications, and Linton said the board hopes to employ a new superintendent in early February who will begin work in April.  Linton told the Mercer County ESC governing board members Thursday that a consolidated ESC is not possible with the limited time frame.

  "This is not a process you can do in two months," Linton told the board.

  Linton said a potential joint ESC could take years of research. The two centers would have to work together to see if such a project would prove to be a worthy investment that would provide better services at a lower cost to local school districts.

  Although there could be better services if the two combined, Linton said the possibility of cost savings is problematic. At one time, the state was offering funds for ESCs to combine.

  But now, according to Linton, that money is no longer there and may never be there again.

  Linton also said it would be difficult to stabilize employee salaries. If the two centers were to merge, the new ESC would have to pay whichever center had the highest salary schedule.

  And, both centers' governing boards would have to be restructured in two months -- a move that would inevitably reduce the number of board members.

  Both Linton and the board said they didn't understand the motives of Seas. However, Linton speculated that it was because he was moving to a tri-county ESC -- where he will be responsible for 13 more school districts. And Linton said Seas' comments implied that a dual county ESC would save money by getting rid of a superintendent.

  Linton said there would be little savings by eliminating a superintendent. Even though only one superintendent would be needed, Linton said there would still have to be someone in secondary command. And that person, according to Linton, would probably make $20,000 less than the superintendent.

  Even though a conglomeration is out of the question, Linton told the board they should look into sharing highly specialized employees with the Auglaize County center. For example, if Mercer County needed an altruism specialist, they could theoretically share him or her with Auglaize County to save considerable money.

  Linton also said the current search for a new superintendent is progressing as many people have shown interest. But, Linton implied that Seas' comments could affect that.

  "I hope that doesn't hurt the search process."


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