NWI educational service center looks to develop new markets, expand services

2011-07-05T00:00:00Z NWI educational service center looks to develop new markets, expand servicesBy Carmen McCollum carmen.mccollum@nwi.com, (219) 662-5337 nwitimes.com

Cost-cutting in Indiana has affected kindergarten through 12th grade and higher education, and also the nine statewide service centers that assist them.

Now educational service center personnel have been instructed to be more entrepreneurial.

The primary purpose of an educational service center is to assist meeting specific educational needs for participating school districts. Working in concert with the Indiana Department of Education and other agency partners, educational service centers offer cooperative buying for things such as natural gas, electrical supplies or office equipment, technology support services and professional development.

Charlie Costa, director of the Highland-based Northwest Indiana Educational Service Center, said in August the agency, like others in Indiana, was waiting for its biannual installment when the staff learned through the Indiana Department of Education the aid would not be coming.

"The money had been approved as part of the budget but it was withheld when the governor declared a shortfall in state revenues," Costa said. He said the revenue was cut in half and the Northwest Indiana Educational Service Center lost about $110,000 last year.

In the past, the nine state service centers equally shared in the cash. The amount typically was $220,000 for each site, officials said.

The budget adopted by the General Assembly this year does not contain a state appropriation for the service centers, said Christopher Ruhl, head of the state's Office of Management and Budget.

"It is my understanding the state appropriation was historically designed as start-up capital to enable the service centers to develop their business model and market services to local schools," Ruhl said. "If they are providing a valuable services to schools, they will be compensated for those services, which would then be used to fund their operating budgets.

"There is no reason taxpayers need to be funding the service centers if they cannot deliver value or cost efficiencies directly to their customers (school districts)," Ruhl said.

Because of recent reforms, opportunities are plentiful for educational service centers to help schools in an entrepreneurial manner, which would be cost-efficient for school districts, IDOE spokeswoman Lauren Auld Schregardus said.

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