Week beginning December 1, 2013
(Introduction to the Superintendent Journal)
Friday, December 5, 2013: Sharing, Caring, and Our Public Schools
Recent news articles raised the possibly of Greenfield schools sharing superintendents with a neighboring school district—Mohawk Trail Regional. It never hurts to think about whether or not there is a benefit to combining something, and in this economy families, businesses, and public organizations keep looking for viable ways to reduce, reuse, and collaborate. Greenfield school committee voted down this idea at its meeting on Wednesday, December 4th, 2013. I had reviewed and analyzed the situation.
I’d read where families on one block decided to share one car together and considered this example of sharing. Each family paid a percent of the car expenses and each family had a percent of time to use the car. It did save each family money. The families had to coordinate use of the car, though, and what happens if people needed the car at the same time on the same day? Ahhh, here is the problem with sharing services.
You just have to think it through carefully to see if the sharing you imagine will save money is actually going to work out. How often does each family actually need to use the car and is there enough car time for everyone? How often do you want the superintendent at a meeting? How often does one school system need the special education administrator? Does that administrator have enough time and enough flexible time to go another series of places and meetings?
In Greenfield, with three elementary schools of approx. 200 students each, we have experience sharing teaching staff between the three schools. We share elementary specialists. For example, we share music teachers. This works, but for it to work I have to add part-time music teachers for where we don’t have enough staff --a couple classes of music at Federal Street and couple classes of music and at Four Corners. Otherwise, the principals would have to debate which classes of children at which school would not have music. It would cause tension. We make the sharing work by adding additional personnel. Sharing superintendents is not so different—if the needs of the districts cannot be met by one person, more superintendent-level personnel will need to be added so it works for the different districts.
Also, parties sharing people or services have to have some organizational elements in common—type of school, type of budgeting, philosophy, approaches—that’s where the economies of scale might come into play. If everything is different, it is not easy to combine the work at hand—it is just more different types of work to do.
I’ve thought about whether or not these two school systems have enough in common to make combining superintendent services sensible (to me, that is). Here is my analysis:
Greenfield is a single-community school system; Mohawk serves nine (9) different .towns (Ashland, Buckland, Charlemont, Colrain, Hawley, Heath, Plainfield, Rowe, and Shelburne),
Greenfield is a city—so the school committee does not have autonomy over its budget which is city controlled; none of the nine Mohawk towns is a city so the school committees representing these different towns’ schooling can vote to go to the towns for more money—this isn’t possible in Greenfield under city government model,
Greenfield’s long-standing school committee policy on grade configuration is that elementary grades are K-5, middle school, 6-8, and high school 9-12; Mohawk schools’ grade configuration, I believe, is elementary K-6 and the regional middle/high school is 7-12,
Greenfield has increasing enrollment with increasing state aid; Mohawk has declining enrollment and I’ll assume declining state aid,
Greenfield’s elementary schools are K-3; Mohawk’s are K-6 (this would be important to a superintendent because in Greenfield our continued curriculum emphasis is grade 3 exit skills in preparation for grade 4),
Greenfield has approximately 10 “special classes” (not special education teachers but separate, specialized programs for unique students—autism, behavior, low cognition) and 38 tuition-based students; Greenfield needs a lot of special education administration services; there isn’t a lot of time to add more special education administrative demands, except for the out-of-district management—we could add 40% more to this position,
Greenfield’s school committee has an active subcommittee structure (most school committees do) and Greenfield’s superintendent currently has 15-17 evening meetings/month plus many after-hours appointments and events. Each of these meetings usually has preparation or follow-up work. Mohawk’s different school committees likely have the same subcommittees because budgeting and policy is the work of every school committee. I can’t see where there’s room for several more sets of meetings,
Our financial system is set up for Greenfield’s city accounting system these days and all of our financial operations and funding follow guidelines for city school systems; none of Mohawk’s towns’ financial operations are set up for city integration and the funding aid is different for regional school systems; business management staff would have to be able to follow different types of fund accounting and funding operations then,
Greenfield has a fleet of small vehicles we manage because we have so many students who need to go here and there; Greenfield does not have complicated general transportation system, though, because the expanse of territory to cover and the topography and road conditions in the winter are easier to manage than in Mohawk,
Our districts do not even close schools on the same winter days as Greenfield doesn’t have exactly the same road safety issues.
Other than both districts looking at ways to manage costs, I did not find too many areas of commonality for ease of combining services without additional personnel. Personally, I don’t see how the systems could be easily combined without hiring 1 or 2 assistant superintendents.
It’s like the idea of six families sharing one car. I can conceptualize six families sharing a car and at some point in my life even being one of the six. But I can’t see it working on my street, now, because we all seem to go off every day at the same time in different directions and besides, I don’t think I’d enjoy driving a big truck which is the vehicle three of my neighbors enjoy for transportation.
I thought the December 4th meeting would result in an prolonged discussion but the committee discussed and disposed of the proposal without too much debate. These decisions among many communities take time to work out. Maybe the way to start sharing is not with superintendents, but something less drastic.