This week I had the honor of serving on the team that evaluated the Great Rivers Educational Service Cooperative (GREC), which serves school districts in Phillips, Lee, Monroe, St. Francis, and Crittenden Counties. Our community is fortunate to have this operation housed here in Helena-West Helena and our district benefits greatly from the services it provides to us which saves us hundreds of thousands of dollars per year compared to what it would cost us to procure the same services independently.
It is doubtful if the vast majority of the patrons of the districts served by GREC know just how much it does to support the education of the 14,000+ students in the districts it serves, including the approximately 1,400 students in the Helena-West Helena School District. However, without the work done by GREC, which has been led by Suzann McCommon and housed on the campus of Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas since it was founded in 1985, our schools would not have access to the high quality training provided to teachers or the top-notch expertise we can access for facility consulting, technology, dyslexia intervention, etc.
No column can summarize the work done by an operation of this magnitude in one installment, but I think it is important for our community and the patrons of this school district to have some idea what an asset GREC is to our staff and our students. For example, GREC provided over 1,300 hours of training to the staff in just the Helena-West Helena School District last year and did so at a cost that was tens of thousands of dollars less than what HWHSD could have negotiated independently.
Another important service provided by GREC is its technology department. In addition to working closely with the technology personnel of the individual district to provide technical assistance, GREC also saves districts money and maximizes cost benefits by working on a GREC-area wide e-rate application, which helps us to procure hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop and maintain our network and eliminates 100s of hours of work from our district personnel. HWHSD also benefits from the ability to purchase some equipment in bulk in cooperation with all of the districts in the cooperative.
Another invaluable services is the shared facilities consultant. For only a small fraction of the salary of this employee, all of our partnership funding applications and paperwork is managed by a top-notch expert, who managed to help us obtain over $6 million in partnership funding for the new facilities project underway at Central High School and approximately $3 million for the new Eliza Miller Building at J. F. Wahl Elementary School. For less than $15000 per year, I would say that it is an excellent deal and we are fortunate that Ms. McCommon had the foresight to bring the superintendents together to make that happen.
Other services include helping us with our bus driving training, drug testing required for some employees, and assistance with the updating of our asbestos plans. The list of services provided could continue for several thousand words, but the point of this column is that GREC is a huge asset to HWHSD and the other districts it serves. Without GREC, we would not be able to afford many of the high quality services it makes available to us at reduced or no cost. Without GREC, our students would suffer. GREC is a huge asset to education in our region and an asset to our community.