The Lake Placid and Saranac Lake school boards meet.
Members of the Saranac Lake and Lake Placid school boards Wednesday, Sept. 5 decided against sharing a school superintendent but agreed to look at sharing other services in the future.
Both boards are preparing to choose replacements for SLCS Superintendent Gerald Goldman and LPCS Superintendent Randy Richards — who will be leaving their jobs at the end of the 2012-13 school year — and they were seriously considering hiring a shared superintendent, with the overall goal to save money.
But at their joint meeting in the Petrova Middle School library, there was a lot of head nodding as board members said sharing a superintendent now is premature. All districts are currently faced with several state mandates — including the Annual Professional Performance Review (teacher and principal evaluations) — which are sending district officials into “unchartered territory,” as SLCS Board Vice President Clyde Baker called it.
“We’re not really sure how this is going to pan out,” Baker said. “I may be a little apprehensive about jumping into something without everything answered already.”
In August, both boards invited guests to help them understand how a shared superintendent would affect the districts. Franklin-Essex-Hamilton Board of Cooperative Educational Services Superintendent Steve Shafer, Brushton-Moira School Board President Dennis Egan, and St. Regis Falls School Board Vice President Tom O'Bryan attended the Aug. 23 SLCS meeting, with Lake Placid School Board members in the audience. And Beverly Ouderkirk – interim superintendent of the Brushton-Moira and St. Regis Falls school districts for the 2011-12 school year – sat down with each school board separately to put the shared superintendent prospect into perspective.
SLCS Board President Debra Lennon Heard said Ouderkirk told them that principals take on a more important role in running their buildings and while a shared superintendent is away visiting the neighboring school district.
“And obviously for a part of the time, the superintendent is away,” Lennon said. “So it definitely has come into play in our discussions that you’re also hiring a principal and assistant principal in the process.”
As they explored the possibility of sharing a superintendent, Lennon said, board members kept asking themselves, “Is this the right time?”
“I think we are in agreement that this isn’t the right time to share superintendents,” said LPCS Board President Mary Dietrich. “It’s not that we’re never going to consider it. We’re never going to say never ... but one thing we are going to put in place is an organized system where that interaction is going to take place. And that’s going to be a key part of when we launch our searches for our new superintendents. That’s going to be a key part of that process, getting somebody that’s willing and able to do that collaboration.”
But sharing other service makes sense, board members agreed.
“I really think that, especially in the current situation, every school district is going to have to consider changing how they’re doing things, and it needs to be looked at from different perspectives,” said LPCS Board member Patti Gallagher. “I think the opportunity to share some services makes a lot of sense.”
LPCS Board member Martha Stahl said that hiring a shared superintendent is a “Herculean task” and one that should be eased into.
“In some sense I think the more we can share before we explore sharing superintendents, the easier a task that comes because there already will be buy-in from top to bottom,” Stahl said.
Both school districts already share some services, such as BOCES classes at the Adirondack Educational Center in Saranac Lake. Yet, as the BOCES program illustrates, the two districts — both on separate school calendars — are currently out of synch.
“It already disadvantages our students that we do not have a shared calendar,” said SLCS Superintendent Goldman. “We know how hard it was to talk about that, and I think that’s just a little bit of indication of the kinds of roadblocks you’re going to run into in every one of these conversations. This would be a great one to have, though, because if we are determined to walk the walk, it would be really good if we face that head-on.”
It was also pointed out that the out-of-synch calendars — specifically with different vacation times — is a problem in households where one parent works in the Saranac Lake district and another parent works in the Lake Placid district.
Both boards decided to explore sharing services in four categories: instructional, business office, food service, and property and equipment. Chairs from each district were chosen for each committee, and another joint meeting was set for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16 at the Lake Placid Elementary School. The committees will meet with stakeholders first and invite appropriate administrators to the table.
“If they (shared services) were going to come naturally, they would be here already,” Goldman said. “There will be resistance.”
Goldman said it’s important to have people present at these meetings who understand the operations at each school district.
“That is really critical to being successful because these things have been tried before, at various levels, not just in school districts,” Goldman said. “And you know how it works. It’s a great idea until we start to talk about whose ox is going to get gored.”