By DAVE GYMBURCH Staff writer

The Rome school district should have a good chance of winning one of the state’s new efficiency awards that could bring up to $4.5 million over three years, says Superintendent Jeffrey P. Simons.

Citing steps in recent years including limited spending growth plus changes in administrative costs and health insurance, Simons said Rome will apply for the School District Management Efficiency Awards program that was announced April 10 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Applications are due at the state Education Department by June 6. Up to $75 million in grants will be distributed statewide over the next three years, according to Cuomo.

The district will "take a shot efficiency grants," Simons said at a Board of Education meeting last week. "We believe we have a strong probability" of qualifying for funding. A review of criteria indicates that the district could be eligible for $1.5 million per year during the 3-year period, he noted.

Awards will be for districts that have "most effectively cut unnecessary bureaucratic costs while maintaining the integrity of educational programs and services for our students and teachers," said Cuomo in a statement. Applications by districts need to "show cost savings in management efficiencies through eliminating administrative redundancies, reducing transportation costs and cutting other administrative overhead," he said. Districts also will have to show they are "consulting parents and teachers about cost saving proposals," Cuomo added.

The Rome district overall has "slowed growth" in its budget, said Simons. Its actual expenditures between 2007-08 and 2010-11 grew by at an average annual increase of .76 percent, lower than the inflation rate of 1.83 percent, he said at a budget presentation.

District administration costs in its tentative 2012-13 budget represent 9.5 percent of the total $101.2 spending plan or about $9.6 million, said Simons, noting "consistent" results for keeping costs in that percentage range in recent years. The district three years ago underwent a central office reorganization that shifted responsibilities, eliminated some positions, and saved $163,000 overall, according to Simons.

Regarding health insurance changes, the district’s unions three years ago agreed to switch coverage to a plan through a BOCES consortium, cutting those costs by about $1.5 million the following year.

The state’s efficiency grant program "seems to be well thought out," Simons commented. Cuomo is seeking to reform the education system by launching performance-based competitive awards to supplement an ongoing formula-based system of state assistance.