The Delaware-Union County Educational Service Center (ESC) and the ESC of Franklin County will merge in January (see here), creating a multi-county agency that will serve more than 11 percent of Ohio's public-school students.

The new "ESC of Central Ohio" will serve 25 school districts in the three counties and should become a powerful voice in the education debate. It will be led by Franklin County's current superintendent, Bart Anderson, and treasurer, Alan Hutchinson. All employee contracts will be honored by the new ESC.

Ohio's 58 ESCs-soon to be 57 on Jan. 1-are outgrowths of the former county boards of education. They provide a variety of services to area schools, including professional development, special education services, curriculum and instruction planning, technology support, and business and administrative assistance. Funding comes from the Ohio Department of Education and from member districts that contract with them.

The last ESC merger was in 2007, when the Washington County ESC and Guernsey-Monroe-Noble ESC combined to form the Ohio Valley ESC. Such mergers, which usually result when member districts opt to leave one ESC for another, serve as a model for how Ohio's education system can streamline operations and reduce costs without cutting quality or quantity of educational services they provide.

Ohioans have been reticent to consolidate school districts, in large part because schools provide a sense of local identity and serve as the hearts of small communities. The same is not true of ESCs and other regional education entities. As Gov. Strickland, the State Board of Education, and local school boards look for ways to save money in the education sector, mergers and better utilization of regional service providers might be a good place to start.

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