What Are Intermediate School Districts?

Most Michigan Parents, Students Unaware of Role They Play

Do you know which intermediate school district you live in?

No, not your local school district, your intermediate school district (ISD).

Give up? Don't feel bad if you don't know. Unless you are a public school employee, you are probably like most Michigan residents in that you are not even sure what an ISD is or does.

Michigan's 57 ISDs were formed in 1962 by Public Act 190, which took the state's existing 83 county school districts and renamed and reorganized them under the new name of "intermediate school districts."

ISDs are structured as separate taxing units to provide various administrative and instructional services to local school districts. All Michigan ISDs have elected board members. However, unlike school board members in local school districts who are popularly elected by the residents of a given school district, many ISD boards of education are chosen by the board members of each local school district within its borders. Each ISD has a superintendent that is hired by the board of education.

In 1989, some Michigan ISDs were renamed as Regional Educational Service Agencies, Educational Service Districts, or Educational Service Agencies to clearly reflect their mission and purpose.

"ISDs do many things," says Ronald Koehler, director of communication services for the Kent County ISD in Grand Rapids, which encompasses 20 school districts with a K-12 student population of 130,000.

Koehler identifies three distinct areas that many ISDs, including his, typically serve.

One area involves the accounting and auditing of student numbers for each district. Since Michigan counts students twice per year (in September and February) for funding purposes, the ISD provides auditors who visit each district to review student enrollment numbers. The auditors report each school district's K-12 student count to the state government. The data are then used for providing state aid to each local district.

Another area is the oversight of special education for local school districts. ISDs help relieve individual school districts of the responsibility of operating individual special education programs.

ISDs' third area of responsibility focuses on career technical education and career preparatory programs. In Kent County, approximately 2,500 students benefit from various vocational courses offered at the Kent Career and Technical Center. The emphasis is on hands-on education in courses ranging from agri-science to computer aided design.

Koehler adds that his ISD also provides general educational services in professional development activities for administrators, teachers, and staff. In addition, various advisory committees consisting of representatives from local school districts meet to determine district needs.

The Bay-Arenac ISD-composed of seven school districts with a student population of 30,000-in Michigan's "thumb area" offers its local districts career technical education, professional development activities, curriculum development assistance, grant writing expertise, and pupil accounting.

"Our mission is formed by what our school districts want," says Geraldine Allen, supervisor of communications for the Washtenaw ISD in Ann Arbor, which encompasses 10 school districts with a student population of 43,000. "It is a fine line between service and leadership."

More sparsely populated areas in Michigan also enjoy the benefits of ISDs. Iosco Regional Service Agency serves four school districts with a student population of 6,500.

Iosco Superintendent Thomas Caldwell says that some of his ISD's services may be provided by consortiums, collaborations with other ISDs, or other cooperative ventures.

He points out that there is a cooperative venture to provide a satellite math and science center for students in his ISD as well as a proposed consortium for interactive television with the Crawford-Oscoda-Ogemaw-Roscommon ISD in Roscommon and the Alpena-Montmorency-Alcona ISD in Alpena.

"Overall, we provide general education support, curriculum support, career-technical education, and serve as a liaison between the schools and the Michigan Department of Education," Caldwell says.