By William Kincaid
Mercer County Educational Service Center Interim Superintendent Jim Dippold said a potential merger with the Auglaize County Educational Service Center is still possible as long as both boards are willing to work together.
"There are just a lot of issues that need to be discussed," Dippold told the Mercer County ESC board during its regular Thursday meeting. "It takes two parties to merge."
Dippold said anything that could serve the local schools better for less money -- such as a possible joint-county ESC -- is certainly worth looking into.
He also said if the local school boards and their superintendents are interested, a joint ESC should be sought out.
"We're a service organization. And in some ways, they're the boss," Dippold said referring to the local school boards and superintendents. Auglaize County ESC Superintendent Pat Niekamp this morning said he is neither for nor against the idea. He said no school boards in Auglaize County have shown interest in the idea.
"We haven't heard it expressed. The interest of the districts would determine that," he said.
The ESCs offer a multitude of services to county school districts, which pay the ESC based on what programs the students use. ESC programs include gifted education, special education, alternative schools for suspended students and psychology services, among others.
Dippold said he has received support from Mercer County superintendents to look into a consolidation.
"I sensed a majority feel they want us to talk about it," he told the board. "I'm sure the local boards will be discussing it this month."
On Jan. 10 an informal superintendents' meeting was held at McSober's in Coldwater to discuss the possible merger. Superintendents Matt Miller of Celina, David Riel of Fort Recovery, Doug Karst of Parkway, Tim Buschur of Tri Star, Rich Seas from Coldwater, Rod Moorman of St. Henry and Andy Smith from Marion Local were all in attendance. Smith is one of 16 candidates for the open superintendent position at the Mercer County ESC.
Moorman told The Daily Standard the superintendents all are interested in pursuing a joint ESC, if it would provide better services and a cheaper price.
Moorman also added that it would be a mistake not to investigate the possibility.
Regardless of a possible merge, ESC board President Pete Hayes said it is the board's intention to preceed with their superintendent search. Former Superintendent Eugene Linton, who was against a merger, retired in December.
"We need to go ahead and pursue getting a superintendent," he said.
However, Hayes said the superintendent search timeline is tentative and could be adjusted or postponed.
Board Vice President Ken Stammen said the joint venture is simply speculative and theoretical at this time. If a consolidated ESC would be agreed upon by all parties, he said many financial and governing factors would have to be analyzed.
For example, each center has multi-year contracts with various service providers that would either have to be broken or renegotiated. And maybe most importantly, each center has different amounts and means of financing.
If a merger is agreed upon, Dippold said such necessary changes and transactions are feasible.
"There are a lot of complexities," Dippold said. "But I'm sure they could all be worked out with time."