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updated: 6/8/2011 5:49 PM

School districts may share resources

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Two local elementary school districts are considering sharing the services of a financial expert in a pact officials say could benefit both.

Oak Grove School District 68, based in Green Oaks, proposed the idea allowing Kurt Valentin, assistant superintendent for finance and operations in Libertyville Elementary District 70, to help manage its finances.

The move came after District 68's business manager, Paul Starck-King, and assistant business manager, Jay Kahn, separately announced they would be leaving for positions in other districts as of June 30.

"It was one day after the other," said Superintendent Janice Matthews.

But in what may be a sign of the times, a decision was made to consider alternatives to simply replacing the departing employees. Instead, Oak Grove may pay District 70 a fee for financial services.

"I would say a year ago we might not have had this on our radar screen at all," Matthews said.

Consolidation of smaller school districts a became a hot topic earlier this year when Gov. Pat Quinn called for an overhaul of Illinois school districts' sizes and boundaries. It didn't happen immediately, although a committee will be studying the matter.

Matthews noted that other legislation is aimed at making districts more financially responsible.

"The state is really promoting shared services," she added.

Discussions are in the early stages, but the proposal would have District 70 producing Oak Grove's budget, tax levy, payroll and related matters.

Valentin, who would use the same financial format for Oak Grove, would come in as needed, attend school board meetings and be the main financial contact with the school board. An on-site assistant may also be part of the package.

In return, Valentin's duties overseeing buildings and grounds at District 70, which he assumed when a separate position was eliminated several years ago, would be dropped and a new person hired specifically for that purpose. District 70 says there is a growing need to maintain its aging school buildings and conserve energy.

"It's going to be an opportunity for both of us," said District 70 Superintendent Guy Schumacher. "It's kind of like the new wave, so to speak."

The District 70 board unanimously agreed at a special meeting Monday to pursue the concept, and Oak Grove has scheduled a special meeting at 2 p.m. Thursday on the matter. Valentin and Harry Griffith, who leads Lake Forest District 115 and Lake Forest Elementary District 67, will be guests at that meeting.

"The next step is we need to define the actual expectations and develop a contract both boards would sign," Matthews said.

Oak Grove had been paying about $180,000 per year in salaries and benefits for Starck-King and Kahn.

"The expectation would be it would be a win for us -- we could get this necessary work done for less than if we did it ourselves," said Tony Pirih, a newly elected Oak Grove school board member and chair of its finance committee. "It's a very common practice in the private sector."

District 70 has about 2,500 students and a budget of $36 million. Oak Grove has about 900 students and a $14 million budget. Both schools feed students to Libertyville High School.

Financial uncertainty for the upcoming 2011-12 budget looms for Oak Grove, as its four-year contract with teachers ends June 30.

"We need to negotiate the teachers' contract and get them into the system with their salaries and benefits," Matthews said. The tax levy in December is another "pivotal" financial element, she said.

Although early in the process, Pirih said the arrangement could be a benefit to taxpayers.

"They want to hear that we're being smart about this," he said.