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Students head back to school as Columbia Borough School District kicks off the 2018-19 school year on Monday, August 20, 2018.

THE ISSUE

The Eastern Lancaster County school board has agreed to share some services with Columbia School District for six more years, LNP’s Alex Geli reported in the July 21 edition of Sunday LNP. “The agreement, which stretches from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2026, extends a partnership between two districts on opposite ends of Lancaster County,” Geli wrote. “The relationship began in 2016 when they also shared a superintendent for one year.”

We applaud Elanco’s vote to extend its end of this partnership, and we urge the Columbia board to follow suit when it votes on the deal at its next meeting.

Elanco Superintendent Bob Hollister told Geli that he believes it’s a win-win for both districts.

We agree.

The deal involves the sharing of business, human resources and technology services between the two districts. Geli explains that it would require Columbia to pay Elanco $315,000 annually — a $35,000 increase from the previous agreement — to receive support from Elanco’s business manager, human resources director and information technology director, “in addition to (receiving) an on-site tech support specialist and a host of network services and equipment.”

Elanco business manager Keith Ramsey said that, under the unique partnership, Columbia would continue to receive “decades of experience and top-of-the-line equipment for a sharply reduced cost,” Geli reported. Columbia would have no need to hire full-time employees in those areas or purchase new equipment.

Partnering with Elanco has been a financial plus for Columbia. “Saving money has helped Columbia establish stronger financial footing, particularly regarding its general fund balance, a rainy day fund districts typically keep in case of emergencies,” Geli reported.

Added Hollister: “I think it’s been a great, symbiotic relationship where both sides are gaining.”

We need more of these kinds of partnerships and efficiencies in our schools and also in local government. We need — yes, we’ll say it — consolidation. As we have often bemoaned in this space, our state has 67 counties, more than 2,500 municipalities, 500 school districts, and more than 1,100 law enforcement agencies.

It’s too much. The inefficiencies give us headaches and cost taxpayers money. We’re all for local governance, but Pennsylvania takes it too far.

But the road to efficiency is bumpy. And the road to consolidation ... well, it isn’t even on the map.

There are simply no easy ways, for example, to make the seismic changes that would bring long-term benefits for Pennsylvania’s public schools. PA Post’s Ed Mahon wrote earlier this year about the reasons why there is little momentum for consolidation: public opposition to closing schools; district boundaries being used as demarcation lines between wealthier and poorer communities; prohibitive upfront costs in joining districts together; and, finally, the reality that state lawmakers have little incentive to force the issue.

And so we’re mostly stuck with the status quo. It’s a status quo that leaves haves and have-nots among school districts and can be unfair to students and taxpayers. Our best hope for change from Harrisburg might be on the topic of school property tax reform; perhaps changing that unfair funding system would provide a simultaneous impetus for rethinking the need for 500 public school districts.

Until then, we must settle for the small successes. And applaud the small efficiencies, such as the pending extension of the Elanco-Columbia partnership.

No efficiency, no savings, is too small to be deemed worthy.

In a letter to LNP last week, Warwick Township resident Howard Snoke wrote: “I have a suggestion for district business managers. Each week, have staff members put together a detailed list of anything of value that has been approved for disposal. ... It doesn’t cost the district one penny to send a weekly message to the other business managers to say, ‘We have this or that, and would you be interested in taking it? Please respond in seven days.’ ”

We would hope — and suspect — that actions along these lines are already being taken by districts. If not, they should be.

We’d like sweeping change for Pennsylvania schools, but, in the meantime, we’ll have to be satisfied with what we can get.

Penn Manor decision

Some other news we applaud: Penn Manor School District will add individual changing rooms and showers to the locker rooms as part of its nearly $100 million high school renovation and construction project, Geli reported Thursday.

“Students will still have separate locker rooms for boys and girls, but those who aren’t comfortable changing or showering among their peers may choose one of a handful of private areas to do so,” Geli wrote.

The Penn Manor announcement comes on the heels of Elanco’s controversial addendum to its privacy policy. That addendum states that transgender students are to use facilities that align with their biological sex — not gender identity — until private, single-user bathrooms and locker rooms are eventually available districtwide.

Penn Manor Superintendent Mike Leichliter told Geli that the heightened awareness surrounding this issue was a factor in his board’s decision. “We felt we needed to make a change now,” he said.

The trend toward providing privacy is the right one for school districts. We applaud those boards that get it right.