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Pawlenty, lawmakers say mandate sharing

ST. PAUL -- Schools save money when they combine business-office services, so Gov. Tim Pawlenty and a coalition of state legislators want to require cooperation.

A bill being considered would require many school purchases to be made only from approved vendors that might provide lower prices because they buy in bulk.

"There are 340 school districts and 150 charter schools in the state, but back-room functions don't need to be duplicated 490 times," Pawlenty said Wednesday in introducing the concept.

"Shared services will allow Minnesota schools to focus resources where they are needed the most -- in the classroom and on improving student achievement."

Many schools, especially in rural areas, already share services, such as hiring one superintendent for more than one district.

Executive Director Lee Warne of the Minnesota Rural Education Association said his group, representing 40 percent of the state's districts, long has supported shared services and has asked lawmakers to provide incentives for implementing the concept.

For rural districts, he said, the key is to save on "back office" services, freeing money for classrooms.

Pawlenty said he will continue to introduce shared-services proposals affecting counties, cities and other governmental entities.

The proposal would deal with schools that "in many cases are doing the same things over and over again, but doing them separately," Pawlenty said.

The governor said many "backroom functions" can be shared among districts, such as payroll, curriculum, special education, purchasing, food services and information technology departments.

Also, Pawlenty added, employees of small districts do not get as much practice in their jobs, an argument for combining duties. "The more you do it, the better you get at it."

Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher said he fears some of his union members will lose jobs if the proposal becomes law, but Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, disagreed.

"There is very little job loss," she said. "There may be redeployment."

Dooher said the proposal is a diversion from serious state budget problems and would do little to save money.

Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Daily Globe

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.