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LP, SL school boards delve into sharing services, not a super

September 19, 2012

SARANAC LAKE - Sharing a superintendent is off the table, at least for now, but the Lake Placid and Saranac Lake school boards have agreed to look into other ways they could share services.

The two boards held a rare joint meeting Wednesday at the Petrova School library. It was called to discuss the prospect of the two districts sharing a superintendent, as both Saranac Lake and Lake Placid will have superintendent vacancies when the 2012-13 school year ends.

In recent weeks, the two boards have been gathering information and meeting with officials from the Brushton-Moira and St. Regis Falls school districts, the only schools in the region who currently share a superintendent.

"I think we are in agreement that this is not the right time to share a superintendent," said Lake Placid school board President Mary Dietrich. "It's not that we're never going to consider it; but we're going to go the route of finding other ways to share."

"It's time for us now to really get the discussion going," Saranac Lake school board President Debra Lennon said at the beginning of Wednesday's meeting.

But after roughly 20 minutes of talk, it was clear there wasn't enough support among the two boards for sharing a superintendent, at least right now.

Saranac Lake board member Clyde Baker said he was nervous about putting additional burdens on his district's administrators now that they've been saddled with new teacher evaluation standards and practices that go into effect this school year.

"We're not really sure how this is going to pan out this year, or the next couple of years, and what's going to be expected of them," he said. "It makes me a little apprehensive about jumping into something without everything answered already."

"We don't have the developed principal and assistant principal in place yet to support somebody who's not going to be there," said Lake Placid board member Phil Baumbach. "That's a big negative for me, moving into one superintendent."

Miles Van Nortwick, a Saranac Lake board member, said it was "a bit of a Herculean task" for Beverly Ouderkirk, whom he described as a seasoned superintendent, to run both the Brushton-Moira and St. Regis Falls districts.

"My feelings are, in choosing a superintendent, it will limit the pool, because if it's a first time superintendent, you could be setting them up for failure having to take on being superintendent of both schools," he said.

Lennon noted that one superintendent would have to negotiate contracts with the multiple employee unions in each district. Just doing that in Saranac Lake schools this year has been "a huge undertaking," Lennon said.

"It seems to me it would be a greater advantage financially speaking to do shared services rather than pennywise and pound foolish to share a superintendent," said Saranac Lake board member Lisa Paschke. "I don't think we're going to get great savings just that way. Sharing services sounds like a better route to take."

"In some sense, I think the more we can share before we explore sharing a superintendent, the easier a task that becomes because there will already be buy-in from top to bottom, which would be a lot easier," said Lake Placid board member Martha Stahl.

Over the course of the next half hour, board members from each district suggested areas to explore.

Saranac Lake board member Esther Arlan said having a common schedule between the districts, where class periods line up, could allow for sharing of teachers and professionals in various fields.

Baker suggested exploring a shared business office. Dietrich said the two districts could have shared food service operations. Sharing academic services, professional development, transportation services and buildings and grounds operations were also suggested.

Committees were ultimately created to look at four different areas: instructional services, food services, business, and property and equipment. Board members from each district volunteered to serve on each committee. Over the next few weeks, the committees will meet with staff from each district to brainstorm ideas to share services.

Saranac Lake district Superintendent Gerald Goldman cautioned the two boards that "there will be resistance" to some of the ideas that may come out of this discussion.

"What's important is that you have individuals present that understand the operations of each school district and don't necessarily have a dog in the fight," he said. "I think that's really critical, because these things have been tried before at various levels of government, and you know how it works. It's a great idea until we start talking about who's ox is going to get gored."

As the meeting came to a close, both Lennon and Dietrich said they felt it was a success. Another joint board meeting was scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Oct. 16 in Lake Placid.

Saranac Lake board member Terry Tubridy said the work of the committees needs to be complete by the end of December so each district can incorporate any changes and potential savings into their budgets for the next school year.

Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or cknight@



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