Southwest school districts team up to cut costs

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. (Photo courtesy Lake and Peninsula School District)

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

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

Bill Hill, superintendent for the Bristol Bay Borough School District, has long heard cries for more vocational training in his community. Students wanted to learn engine repair, web design, welding — courses that were in demand in the neighboring Lake and Peninsula Borough Schools, too. But, Hill said, neither district could make it happen alone.

“So we joined forces, and went out and looked for funding together,” Hill said. “And we developed a program that brings basically a 50-50 mix of students from Lake and Peninsula 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 them really busy from morning to night, and they get a lot out of that time together,” Hill said. “We see this as a win-win. We have a program that Bristol Bay can house, and Lake and Pen(insula) 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.

And the CTE program is just one of the ways that Lake and Peninsula 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 two-thirds of what it used to on the federal programs position.

And while cost-sharing efforts have created strong ties between the Bristol Bay and Lake and Peninsula, 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,” Hill said. “You know, the heart and soul (are) the school board and community. It’s not necessarily some of the functional pieces like the superintendent or a business manager.”

Hill said 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.

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