In the North Country, two districts share a superintendent
On Board Online • August 15, 2011
As enrollments in rural areas of New York decline, school districts are finding ways to save money by combining services and sharing personnel. In the North Country, two districts are even sharing a superintendent.
Franklin-Essex-Hamilton BOCES has been encouraging such innovations. The BOCES’ 10 component districts are located in the Adirondacks and the eastern periphery of the St. Lawrence Valley, and all but two are facing drops in enrollment.
In the fall of 2010, the BOCES organized four regional forums on “Maintaining Comprehensive Instructional Programs in the Face of Declining Enrollment and Declining Fiscal Resources.” One forum specifically covered the delicate subject of school district organization. In general, districts participating were not in favor of consolidation; however, they were open to enhancing shared services as a method to maintain a comprehensive instructional program and to reduce costs.
At the time, interim superintendents were serving in neighboring districts of Brushton-Moira and St. Regis Falls. The boards of both districts were highly interested in how they could share more services and asked BOCES District Superintendent Stephen Shafer to facilitate a discussion. After several months, four sharing arrangements were adopted by the districts:
- Shared food service management. Brushton-Moira was already participating in a FEH BOCES-operated Food Service Management service with the Salmon River Central School District. The St. Regis Falls board decided to join the growing service in the 2011-12 school year. The economy of scale will make the service more efficient for all three districts.
- Shared transportation supervisor and shared mechanic. Brushton-Moira and St. Regis Falls were exploring sharing in the area of transportation when a personnel opening in transportation occurred on short notice in the St. Regis Falls Central School District. The districts were able to reach an agreement for sharing personnel for the remainder of the 2010-11 year and plan to continue that arrangement in 2011-12.
- Shared CSE chairperson. Brushton-Moira and St. Regis Falls are also nearing an agreement to share an employee to serve as chair of each district’s committee on special education in 2011-12. Both districts have veteran staff with expertise in the area of special education, which will enable an effective and efficient sharing arrangement to occur.
- Shared superintendent. In the boldest step, the school boards of both districts have entered into an agreement to share a superintendent for the 2011-12 school year. Beverly Ouderkirk is a veteran educator with superintendent and district superintendent experience. She has been serving as the interim superintendent at St. Regis Falls since Oct. 2, 2010 and has been appointed to the shared superintendent position for 2011-12. If the shared superintendent proceeds as expected, both districts will seek a permanent successor to continue the shared superintendent position starting in July 2012.
Ouderkirk will split her time between the districts, spending some time in each district on a daily basis. The arrangement allows for deviation from a set schedule when necessary to meet the needs of the districts. The respective boards of education will meet jointly three times during the year to discuss any problems or concerns regarding the functioning of the shared superintendency and make such adjustments in scheduling, etc. as are mutually agreed upon. Each board will also conduct its own evaluation of the superintendent.
The shared superintendent compensation agreement sets a base salary that both districts would have been comfortable paying a superintendent to serve in their respective districts. A “sharing adjustment” is then applied to arrive at the total salary. In the unlikely event that one district desires to exit from the arrangement, they may do so on 60-days notice. The salary would then revert to the base salary and the superintendent would continue to serve in the district that did not exercise the opt-out provision.
Savings from the arrangement are already occurring. Since there is only one superintendent serving two districts, there is only one membership in the New York State Council of School Superintendents, saving each district approximately $500. Both districts participate in the same labor relations service on a cross contract through Champlain Valley Educational Services, and they each will receive a discounted price as the labor relations service will only need to interact with one superintendent, even though specific issues will vary between the two districts. Each district will enjoy a savings of $4,000.
Both districts see an opportunity for additional sharing between the districts. Having a shared superintendent will allow for the sharing of ideas between the districts in both instructional and non-instructional areas. Many students from the two districts already receive instruction together in Career and Technical Education and New Vision programs provided by the Franklin-Essex-Hamilton BOCES. Additional opportunities for collaboration in the instructional area will be explored as the shared superintendent position is implemented.
“We think this is a model that districts in other parts of the state can follow,” Shafer said. “It is a very visible way of achieving efficiency and one we think the taxpayers will recognize as good stewardship.”
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