MASON -- Michigan's public-school classrooms are facing a crunch.
"We're on the edge of the precipice," says Stan Kogut, head of the Ingham County Intermediate School District."
The state has been pushed to that brink by a number of factors, including increased retirement costs for teachers -- up 7 percentage points over the past four years -- and a school aid fund that has plummeted right alongside the state's revenues.
A scary-enough situation that many educators are now calling for districts to consolidate their services.
"Non-instructional costs are about $93 million in our county," Kogut tells News 10.
And he says sharing busing or food services across districts could help eat into that $93 million.
"The future is going to be a focus on, with limited dollars, determining how we keep those dollars in the classroom," he says.
Indeed, Kogut adds consolidation of services could save school districts in Ingham County about $100 per pupil.
It is an idea gaining steam. Haslett now shares a food service director with Stockbridge. Okemos provides busing for Haslett. In fact, all 12 districts in the county are in talks to find more ways to consolidate.
Even Governor Granholm is pushing the issue, proposing a $50 million incentive program for districts that share services -- a plan that state lawmakers shut down in their budget vote Wednesday.
"The bottom line is, you have to be able to offer services," says William Mayes, head of the Michigan Association of School Administrators. "And when you do that, you have to do it in the most affordable way."
Michael Van Beek from the Mackinac Center: "If they can create economies of scale and provide the same quality of services, then they should always be looking at ways to do that."
And yet, it is not an idea without its detractors. Some districts worry they'll lose control over their local identity; others that consolidation -- or even privatization -- would mean laying off employees.
"We have to decide, What is the core service of a school district?" asks Kogut. "It is not to provide jobs for bus drivers, custodians, food-service workers -- the job is to provide an education for our students."
And with school districts bleeding money, many education experts say consolidation of services is just shy of inevitable.