The Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit has become one of the biggest players in the Valley's public-spending industrial complex, that includes a number of organizations with cryptic anagrams -- the CSIU, SEDA-COG and Keystone COG, for a start.
What's the difference between an IU and a COG?
IUs bill schools, COGs bill every other form of government.
The expansion of these type of entities leads to a blurring of accountability. The IUs and the COGs operate as vendors serving public entities, like borough councils or county governments or school boards. The concern is that these shadow government agencies have little real accountability to the public and tend to have strong incentives to increase public spending in order to justify the existence of the jobs housed in their buildings.
Enter Kevin Singer.
As head of the CSIU for the last year, Singer's first job was managing the $800,000 golden parachute provided to his predecessor Robert Whitten. Singer quietly guided the organization's handling of that chore while allowing the public full access to information about how much was being paid to Whitten.
As school districts struggled to deal with budgetary pressures, there was increased scrutiny given to the volume of services and the costs billed to districts.
This week, Singer stepped forward to explain how the CSIU has responded to the changing climate by streamlining special education operations to reduce costs without directly affecting the services provided to students. Three people left and were replaced by one employee. Additional responsibilities were divided among other administrators.
Singer's efforts have been noticed by the public school administrators who receive the bills from the CSIU. Selinsgrove school Superintendent Chad Cohrs said that Singer has "gotten the focus back on the students' and districts' needs."
Neighboring Superintendent Mark DiRocco, of the Lewisburg Area School District, said that the organization seems to be focusing on trying to shape its menu of services to meet the needs of districts. That is a welcome change to the entrepreneurial style of management that rewards staff at IUs and COGs for developing services based on whether they can be funded, regardless of need. Organizations that benefit by encouraging increased government spending ought to be viewed skeptically by anyone who believes in responsible use of public dollars. Singer has brought a welcome discipline to managing the IU in a way that focuses on service, as well as the organization's bottom line.