Source: Wisconsin Association of CESA Administrators
Q. How did CESAs get started?
A. For over a century, school districts in Wisconsin were overseen by
county superintendents. After some study, the 1963 legislature and
various school groups concluded that the county system should be
replaces with regional service agencies. That year, 19 cooperative
educational service agencies, or CESAs were created. They began
operating in 1965. In 1984, the agencies were reorganized and the number
reduced to 12, the current number.
Q. Were CESAs unique to Wisconsin?
A. As in Wisconsin, the origin of regional educational organizations
elsewhere dates back to county superintendents, first used in Delaware
in 1829. By 1879, 34 of the then38 states had county superintendents.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the roles of regional educational agencies
began to change. In 1977, 82 agencies from 18 states joined to form a
national organization of educational service agencies (ESAs). Federal
law first recognized them in 1994. By 2001, there were over 530 ESAs in
Q. What is the purpose of CESAs here?
A. Section 116.01, Wisconsin Statutes, reads: “The cooperative
educational service agencies are designed to serve educational needs in
all areas of Wisconsin by serving as a link both between school
districts and between school districts and the state. Cooperative
educational service agencies may provide leadership, coordination and
education services to school districts, University of Wisconsin System
institutions and technical colleges. Cooperative educational service
agencies may facilitate communication and cooperation among all public
and private schools, agencies and organizations that provide services to
Q. How are CESAs governed?
A. A CESA is not a state agency, but t is considered a government
subdivision. It can enter into contracts, and sue and be sued. However,
as well be seen, it cannot tax. Each CESA is governed by an 11 member
board of control of elected by delegate assembly at the CESA annual
convention. Delegates adopt bylaws governing the operation of the CESA.
The delegate assembly consists of one school board member from each of
the school districts in the CESA region, with special provisions made
from areas served by union high/K-8 districts.
Q. What does that board of control do?
A. The board must hold on annual organization meeting between the second
Monday in May and the second Monday in August. The board sets agency
policy and receives state aid for agency operation. It determines and
assesses each participating unit’s prorated share of cooperative program
costs. No costs may be changed to a unit unless it enters into a
The board of control is also responsible for authorizing expenditures to
operate the CESA, including those for personal, space and equipment.
Each year, It must conduct an inventory. Every three years, the board
must provide to each member school board an accountability plan that
addresses the efficiency and effectiveness of CESA programs.
Q. Who chooses and supervises the CESA administrator?
A. The board of control appoints the administrator, and must, within 15
days of the beginning of a contract, require the appointee to file a
bond with the board. The board sets the salary of the administrator and
other employees. In addition, a committee of district administrators of
each member school district advises the CESA administrator regarding
services needed by local districts.
Q. Are CESAs government units or businesses?
A. CESAs are public entities but run much like private businesses. They
listen to their customers-schools, colleges, even local governments.
They develop services that meet their customers’ needs, for example,
cooperative purchasing or sharing of only the services they want. If
CESAs were to fail to meet the needs of the school districts and other
bodies that buy their services, they could not continue to operate.
Q. How, then are CESAs funded?
A. Unlike schools and other local governments, CESAs have no
taxing authority. And, unlike these other public entities, they receive
virtually no direct money from the state- other then $25,000 in annual
“seed money,” which is matched by member school districts. Instead, they
rely principally on the fees they receive from contracts and from any
grants they are awarded.
The largest source of revenue for CESAs is various payments from local
sources. A variety of federal grants were the second largest source
of revenue and almost
two-thirds of that came from federal grants paid through the state
Department of Public Instruction. State monies are the 3rd largest source of all revenues of which special education aids were almost
half that amount. The remaining revenue came from payments between CESAs or
Q. Where do CESAs spend the money they receive each year in fees, grants and aids?
A. The average expenditures of CESAs in the state indicate that approximately 58% was for various kinds of support services. Another 37% was
attributable to instructional services. Combined, the other expenditure
categories accounted for fewer than 5% of the total: noninstructional
services; facilities acquisition and construction; and debt service.
Expenditures vary considerably from CESA.
Q. Are CESAs similar in the number of students and school districts they serve?
A. Because the 12 CESAs cover unique regions of the state, the districts
and students they serve tend to be quite different. CESA 2, in south central Wisconsin, serves the most school districts
(75), while CESA 12, in the far north, serves the least (17). CESA 1,
which includes Milwaukee, has the most students and equalized property
value. CESA 12 has the fewest students, while CESA 3, in the southwest,
has the least equalized property value. Finally, full-time equivalent
staff counts rank from 260 in (CESA 11) to 45 in (CESA 9).