Sunday, February 5, 2012

School District Resource Sharing

I did a quick read of some studies on school district consolidation and the informed consensus seems to come down against school district mergers (especially in poor districts). Based on the evidence, proposals to share school superintendents and/or merge school districts should be looked at sceptically because the data suggests that any economic savings are illusory and that there are no improvements in educational outcomes. This is especially true in times of economic pressures to cut school funding. There are some exceptions. Here's one example in California of two districts that have  shared a superintendent for the last 6 years with a seemingly positive local response. It does seem, however,  that this experience is the exception to the rule that school consolidation does not improve the educational experience or produce any significant cost savings.

(The article below is from a local newspaper, The Mountain Democrat, February 24, 2011)

Two school districts share superintendent

SUPERINTENDENT for both Gold Oak and Pioneer school districts, Dick Williams sits at his desk at the Gold Oak district office. Democrat photo by Krysten Kellum
SUPERINTENDENT for both Gold Oak and Pioneer school districts, Dick Williams sits at his desk at the Gold Oak district office. Democrat photo by Krysten Kellum
Predating all the talk about school district consolidation, two districts in El Dorado County have been pooling one of their resources for years. Dick Williams, superintendent of Pioneer Union School District since 1997, has also been the superintendent of  Gold Oak Union School District for the past six years.
“When the Gold Oak superintendent retired, the district was looking at ways to save money and get an experienced superintendent,” said Williams, 59. ” Vicki Barber, El Dorado County Office of Education superintendent, suggested a shared superintendency and she approached Gold Oak’s board.”
The innovative idea gave each of the small school districts an experienced superintendent and a savings in expense.
“It’s a shared position,” said Williams, “not a half-time position at each district. The superintendent is responsible for everything, 24/7. There’s no half-time about it. That responsibility carries quite a weight, but it’s worked very well.”
Gold Oak subcontracts for Williams’ services through Pioneer and each January, the Gold Oak Board of Trustees reviews the contract and chooses whether to renew it. This year, for the first time in six years, both districts have stated their intent to leave their option to renew the contract open for the moment.
“Taking on a second job didn’t double my salary, ” joked Williams, “but both boards have been very positive about the superintendency. It’s not the only shared superintendency in the state, but there aren’t many of them.”
Gold Oak Union School District Board of Trustees President Susanne Holtrichter said, “We’ve benefited from it greatly. I think he does a full-time job in half the time and we’re hopeful that we can continue sharing a superintendent.”
“It works extremely well and it’s great for both districts,” said  John D’Agostini, a seven-year Pioneer Union Board of Trustees member.
“With the uncertainty of the state budget, we’re not sure where all the pieces are going to fall,” said Holtrichter, “so we’re leaving our options open — not because we don’t want to continue sharing a superintendent, but because we just don’t know what we’re going to need to do.”
The Pioneer district also wanted to keep their options open, said D’Agostini. “We are weighing our options, depending on the state budget. This sharing has saved us a lot of money and allowed us to continue the educational programs we have despite the changes in the budget, but we may have to look at restructuring some things.”
“Things like funding and  what’s best for kids change all the time,” said Pioneer board member Mel Kelley. “We’ve got to be prepared to move with the changes.”
Williams understands completely.
“In February the districts really focus on making personnel budget decisions for the upcoming year. Pioneer has a declining enrollment. With a greater level of uncertainty due to  the state fiscal deficit. They make have to look at a reduction in administrative personnel or a restructuring of personnel, so both districts need to keep things open. A decision to renew the contract now would lock them in.”
Williams’ typical day puts him in both districts. “I try to start the day in one district and end in the other,” said Williams, “and I stagger the days so each district gets equal  a.m. and p.m. It doesn’t always happen, but that’s my goal.”
“The biggest difference between the districts is the wrestling,” said Williams. “In Gold Oak, wrestling is incredibly popular and they have teams at both the elementary and middle schools. At Pioneer, it’s a struggle to get a team together, yet the districts are right next door to each other. We try to give the kids who want to participate in wrestling an opportunity if there isn’t a team in their district.”
Both districts have three schools, but Williams said the culture of each district is different.
“The history of each district, the level of parent involvement and the culture of the community is unique. I had to learn the Gold Oak culture so I could make this work for them and not change it. That’s been one of the most fascinating things about the job.”
His dual roles have been challenging and a boost to  professional growth.
“I don’t know if it will last forever and it’s not always easy, but it’s been great.”

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