LAKE PLACID - Beverly Ouderkirk says school districts need to make sure their own houses are in order before they try to share a superintendent.
Ouderkirk, superintendent of the St. Regis Falls and Brushton-Moira school districts, sat down with the Lake Placid Central School District Board of Education on Tuesday, Aug. 21 to discuss the pros and cons of a shared superintendent; she met with the Saranac Lake school board last week. Each district, along with Keene, will need a new superintendent after the 2012-13 school year, and some school board members believe now is the time to discuss the possibility of sharing the position.
Since speaking at the Saranac Lake meeting last week, Ouderkirk has had more time to reflect on her experience as a shared superintendent. She said she's come to realize that many school districts have unresolved issues that can get in the way of successfully sharing services.
"The past is what takes the time," Ouderkirk said. "Baggage gets in the way of making good decisions."
Ouderkirk advised the board to be direct, honest and transparent as the conversation about sharing a superintendent continues. She said the chance for success is greater when a district has its past in order.
"I spend more time as a shared superintendent dealing with issues from the past," Ouderkirk said. "That's what takes my time. That's what complicates board meetings. That's what keeps people on edge - the things that weren't addressed. There had been mistakes, how some things were done in the past. ... Cleanup is consuming."
School board President Mary Dietrich said Ouderkirk's presentation "drove home the point that we really do need to do our homework and have everything aligned and resolved.
"It didn't change my mind any; it just drove home the point that we have our work cut out for us," Dietrich told this reporter.
Ouderkirk said her school districts are saving approximately $80,300 each as a result of sharing her position. She noted the districts also share a business manager through the Franklin-Essex-Hamilton Board of Cooperative Educational Services, a savings of $174,000 for Brushton-Moira and $75,000 for St. Regis Falls.
The districts also share other services, like food and a Committee on Special Education chairperson. The school buildings are 12 miles apart; Brushton-Moira has total enrollment of about 850 students while St. Regis Falls has roughly 320. Ouderkirk said the districts looked into sharing an athletic director, but it wasn't feasible.
Ouderkirk said she has been able to identify needs at both districts and address them by sharing faculty and staff. In one case, she found that some teachers were being forced to teach outside of their certification, but the other district had the right personnel.
There is a price to sharing her position, Ouderkirk said.
"The longer I do it, the more I'm able to identify the pluses and minuses," she said. "The challenges are incredible ... visibility is huge. I know what people value in small, rural districts. They want to see the superintendent."
Ouderkirk said she discovered quickly that there are vital school and community events she can't miss.
"You find out the ones that are key," she said. "There will always be people who say, 'We never see her.' That's certainly a challenge."
Dietrich asked Ouderkirk how she deals with two separate boards. Ouderkirk said she's found it to be fun.
The two boards meet once a month separately, and a joint monthly meeting has been held for the last year or so. Ouderkirk said the two boards recently agreed to seek another shared superintendent after Ouderkirk steps down at the end of the upcoming school year.
Board member Phil Baumbach asked if the two districts are "moving toward a merger." Ouderkirk said they have applied for a Local Government Efficiency grant to study a possible merger. She said it might happen, but there has been resistance to the idea. She noted the communities would have the final say.
Ouderkirk's presentation drew applause from school board members and from the small crowd that attended Tuesday's meeting. Members of the Brushton-Moira and St. Regis Falls school boards will be at tonight's Saranac Lake school board meeting to continue the discussion about shared superintendents.
The Saranac Lake and Lake Placid school boards will host a joint meeting at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 5 at Petrova Elementary School.
Contact Chris Morris at 891-2600 ext. 25 or cmorris@