Education service centers

Even though the Texas Legislature is not in session there are legislative committees that meet in alternate years with interim charges from the Speaker, the Lt. Governor, or the Governor. This past week the Senate Education Committee met to discuss Education Service Centers as part of its interim charge to study public school management practices, including the use and options for shared services for both academics and operations. The charge includes examining the role of Regional Education Service Centers, the types of services being provided and their ability to assist school districts with improving efficiencies.

Texas has 20 Regional Educational Service Centers (ESCs) to support the 1000 plus school districts in our state. With the large cuts to education and especially to the Texas Education Agency ESCs play an even bigger role in the education of our students. The role of ESCs is to help districts understand and implement the multitudes of state legislated mandates as well as serve as a cost efficient co-op for educational materials, professional development, and operations management.

Rockdale ISD is a member of ESC 6 (located in Huntsville) and we also participate with ESC 13 (located in Austin). Both service centers provide great assistance to our district and staff differently, but targeted assistance at a reasonable cost to the district. When compared to outside vendors, service center costs are usually quite a bit less and allow school districts to operate more efficiently. Sen. Kel Seliger led the meeting. Sen. Florence Shapiro is the Senate Education Chair but did not seek re-election and won’t be returning for the 2013 legislative session.

Four invited panels gave testimony, largely made up of ESC directors and district superintendents, and several superintendents spoke during public testimony. Much of the testimony echoed that of Curtis Culwell, superintendent of Garland ISD, who spoke on the first invited panel.

Culwell listed many ways that ESCs help districts in responding to rapidly changing needs and circumstances, including guidance on managing SFSF dollars, supporting STAAR implementation, training to address bullying, and many other services. Superintendents discussed how they’re able to use ESC personnel for services that they would otherwise have to hire staff to do. Things like professional development and curriculum training are available through ESCs for a much lower cost than districts could find in the private sector, superintendents said. In some cases, the services offered by ESC aren’t available anywhere else.

“ESCs are like unsalted trail mix,” Brad Lancaster, superintendent of Lake Travis ISD said. “Healthy and there is something for everyone.”

Overall, the testimony and questions and comments from senators focused on districts’ ability to operate more efficiently thanks to the services provided by ESCs. However, there are some people that don’t support the work of Educational Service Centers; James Golsan, education policy adviser with the Texas Public Policy Foundation testified that ESCs should be defunded.

The public is not always aware of the work of ESCs because they do not draw a lot of attention to themselves. In fact it is quite natural to not recognize an employee of an ESC unless you happen to know them personally. Their work is always in the best interest of students and they support schools with many different opportunities at a reasonable cost. Public schools in Texas depend on their existence and could not do what we are expected to do without their support.

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2012-07-26 digital edition

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