Superintendent explains advantages/challenges of operational sharing


By Mike Jorgenson

The Highland Community School District has transitioned from a full-time superintendent to a part-time interim Superintendent for the 2017-2018 school year.

They will be transitioning again to an even more part-time shared superintendent with assistance of a consultant/adviser for the 2018-2019 school year. What are the expectations for a part-time shared superintendent?

What does a district give up when they make this transition? What are the advantages or disadvantages? I will attempt to address these questions in this article.

Operational Sharing Dollars from the state have changed the attitude of several school districts in the state of Iowa in terms of the necessity of having a full-time Superintendent.

The state provides an incentive of 8 additional students on the October 1 count for a shared Superintendent for each school district that share at least 20 percent.

This means an additional $50,000 plus of revenue for each school district. This is a very attractive incentive and as a result we find nearly 100 school districts (approximately one-third of all districts) that share superintendents. The incentive covers the majority of salary and benefits in many cases.

The Highland CSD had the goal of reducing $250,000 in expenditures for the 2018-2019 school year to maintain a $1 million unspent balance. We did even better. Approximately $350,000 in cost savings will be in place for the district for next year over this previous year. This will give the district the option a year from now to returning to a full-time Superintendent if that is deemed to be necessary, but the district needs to weigh the cost advantages of the incentive versus the productivity of the position if a full-time person is present. It depends on the expectations for the position and efficiency of the individual doing the position.

Being a shared superintendent means twice the number of responsibilities. Two sets of school boards and board meetings. Twice the number of principals to supervise and evaluate. Two sets of parents and students. Two sets of reports to complete and twice as many pieces of communications that need to be dealt with. It is a challenge and takes an individual who has excellent communication skills and strong support staff ( business managers, principals and secretaries) to be successful.

It also means realistic expectations from School Boards and patrons in terms of participation in local activities and community events. The public relations piece becomes much more difficult when your time is divided. It is also much more difficult for a Superintendent to be visible in all of the school buildings and classrooms. The technology available these days makes it easier for a Superintendent to be responsive through text, email, twitter and other electronic means. When all these things are taken into consideration and accepted, the concept of a shared Superintendent is realistic to be successful if expectations are realistic.

A Superintendent can be visionary and can be a change agent for a district. It becomes more difficult to do that for more than one district, but not impossible. The

most common sharing is between two like sized school districts.

Positive change can be implemented in more than one district at a time if the boards also work to be more efficient in the use of staff, facilities and professional development.

Sharing cost can be a big savings to both districts for a number of functions.

One of the ironies of a shared Superintendent is that it usually occurs with a neighboring school district, which also tends to be the biggest athletic rival. The idea of sharing anything with a big rival is very hard for many hard core, lifelong residents to accept.

The Highland CSD and Lone Tree CSD are entering into this new territory during the 2018-2019 school year. The concept of Operational Sharing is something the Highland district has experienced in other positions in the past, but it is a brand new concept for Lone Tree. Lone Tree is maintaining 80 percent of the Superintendent contract while Highland will have the other 20 percent. That is equivalent to 1 day a week.

This will be a change. Recognizing this change, the Highland Board has asked me to continue with the district as a consultant/adviser for this next year at 20 percent time.

Ken Crawford will be the Superintendent for both districts and will be the final authority on those matters. He will be the contact for parental, teacher and Board concerns. He will be the evaluator of staff, will make weather related decisions, will sign-off on state reports, handle the school board meetings, among other Superintendent duties.

As a consultant/advisor, I will assist in grant writing, facilitating groups such as SIAC and the Building Committee. I will work with the district on communications, public relations, marketing and community outreach. I will work with the Principals as a mentor and will serve as an advisor on programming and course offerings. Many of the things that fill in the gap for a part-time Superintendent.

This will be new and different and time will tell if this is successful.

It is my hope as well as the Board of Directors that this will be successful and future sharing will be more balanced when our partners are more comfortable with the arrangement.

Until the state makes educational funding a priority, districts will need to look towards more efficient means of funding, incentives and ways to keep our districts offering opportunities for our students as opposed to cutting programming.

Shared Superintendents and other operational sharing is a popular strategy to make that happen.