Overview: Central Administration Feeling Fiscal Squeeze
The sharing of a school superintendent, the top administrator in a school district, is an experiment in governance taking place in a handful of districts across New York State. While the format was made more formally possible by the passage of a 2012 law allowing the practice in very small districts, some school boards were trying it before that and, in at least one case, the share exceeds the 1,000-student per district parameters of the law.
Legal mechanisms and the scattered cases of shared superintendencies are cropping up at a high-stakes time for public education in New York State. The 2011 tax cap has imposed a powerful outside influence on the raising of local property taxes. The cap in turn has led many districts to drain their reserves, so that some now say they’re approaching insolvency. At the same time, school enrollments are in decline in many of the state’s regions but costs continue to rise. New York State remains the nation’s leader in spending per pupil (1). The state also leads the nation in highest property taxes, a tax which has far outpaced personal income and inflation (see below), and a tax which is comprised primarily of local school taxes (2). It is too early to know if a rebate-based incentive to share services announced in the current state budget will help freeze property taxes. All of this, when set against the harsh fiscal effects of the recession, has contributed to an unusual amount of pressure on school administrations.
As the top official in any district, the superintendency can be particularly vulnerable to this pressure. With compensation rates that exceed local median household salaries by a multiplier of at least three to five, the attraction for seeking savings at that level has been enhanced. Indeed, Governor Andrew Cuomo has targeted high superintendent salaries as an area ripe for savings. Just as spending on public education leads the nation, compensation for superintendents also ranks among the highest. Those salaries and benefit packages are often more reflective of the property tax capacities of districts than they are of school enrollment or of any other single factor.
It is against this backdrop that experiments in shared superintendencies are occurring.
 The New York State Education Department puts statewide average 2011-12 spending per pupil at $20,906. The US Census puts the NYS per pupil figure at $19,552. It’s a number that leads the nation by more than 10% ($2,084) over the next highest spender, the District of Columbia ($17,468 per pupil).
 ) According to the NYS Office of Real Property Tax Services, the proportion of residential property taxes in the Hudson Valley devoted to public education ranges from a low of 58% in Sullivan County to a high of 73% in Putnam.