Rural districts within upstate New York have started sharing superintendents and from the surface it may appear to be a cost saving approach. However, in these cash-strapped communities, a closer look reveals that direct savings are usually small, but that the effect of having one individual at the head of two bodies has high potential to lead to other sharing and other savings. In some cases, the practice may lead to an improvement in the level of services delivered as in the case of one science teacher who may travel back and forth between two districts. While money is a major concern, a shared superintendent can help address other issues such as keeping a qualified employee, forestalling a high turnover rate, providing richer course offerings and exploring the potential for merger. These are common issues and are possible benefits in communities where both the school enrollment and the district tax base are continually shrinking.
- Even a Temporary Share Can Help—Instead of having a retired or BOCES superintendent fill a district superintendent vacancy, some school boards may wish to explore sharing a superintendent with a neighbor district as an interim measure. Such a share can only help open doors to sharing personnel or programs in the future once a new hire is made.
- Share as a Means to Explore Merging—Current Windsor Central Schools Superintendent Jason Andrews and Ph.D. candidate with a thesis in shared superintendencies has found that sharing a superintendent while exploring the question of merger can be among the more useful strategies; it can often eliminate resistance at the top level.
- Create a Central Repository — A central, searchable public repository for data regarding shared services could require that the Office of the State Comptroller in its audits of school districts and municipalities include an analysis of shared services – positive or negative – that point out any savings or increased costs resulting from efforts to do so.
- Address Potential Burnout with More Sharing, Not Less—A number of sources emphasized the possibility of burnout for the individual who is the shared superintendent. It can be a valid concern. However, sharing a school superintendent between two small or mid-sized districts can pave the way toward greater efficiencies and better educational offerings and in some cases, savings. In instances where burnout is imminent, districts might consider further sharing. These steps might include joint school boards or joint meetings of school boards. Districts might also shared additional personnel such as a business manager, or director of curriculum or district clerk. In this way, districts might build toward a functional, administratively merged district but one that has two different identities.
- Consider a Three-Way Share Among Two Superintendents – Newfane-Wilson Shared Superintendent Michael Wendt believes a gains can be made when two strong superintendents with complementary skills sets lead three districts. The arrangement can provide the best of two worlds to the districts and can also provide for a relief from the pressure of serving two or three entities with just one person at the helm. It is an idea worth exploring. There is some discussion of it Wendt’s December 2013 presentation “The Shared Superintendent:Understanding the Implications” to the Rural Schools Association of New York State.