Press-Republican

April 24, 2014

School seeks shared services

By ALVIN REINER
Press-Republican

---- — WESTPORT — A shared superintendent is one service Westport Central School is looking at with some neighboring districts.

“Keene (Central) is interested,” Westport Superintendent John Gallagher said on Wednesday. “Elizabethtown-Lewis is interested in sharing.

“And I’ve had conversations with Willsboro (Central) as well.

“Is anything planned? No, but we’re interested in pursuing it.”

With that intention in mind, Westport Central School Board recently hosted a presentation from Champlain Valley Educational Services Superintendent Dr. Mark Davey on that topic.

For a shared-superintendent arrangement to work, he said, each district would need a “strong principal” to work at each site and coordinate with the superintendent.

‘PITFALLS’

There are some pitfalls to sharing a superintendent, Davey cautioned.

It could be challenging for the leader of more than one district to attend board meetings at both, he said, and each might have a different teacher’s contract to negotiate.

The superintendent would oversee creation of two budgets instead of one, he noted. 

There is also the possibility that one school might think highly of the individual selected as superintendent while the other might not be as pleased.

“Districts need to enter discussions with their eyes wide open,” Davey said.

‘NOT JUST TO SAVE’

Currently, Westport and Elizabethtown-Lewis share a business officer, as well as professional development and test scoring through the auspices of BOCES. 

There are also itinerant services, such as school psychologists and music teachers, who have been part time at participating facilities.

Davey cautioned that if the primary reason for shared services is to save money, it may not always be in a district’s best interests. 

The collaboration must provide greater opportunities for the students and add to the efficiency of running the school systems, he said.

He also talked about rationales for combining districts, with potential positives that include curriculum efficiency and training, shared memberships in organizations, health-insurance collective bargaining, one special-education committee and a shared bus mechanic, cafeteria services and school treasurer.

LENGTHY PROCESS

Gallagher said the discussion on sharing leadership would continue among the interested schools.

“If we proceed, a merger would take two years to complete,” he said, adding, “Nothing is carved in granite.”

A plan to share transportation services with ELCS last year fell through, he noted, because not all the pieces came together in the end.

Gallagher also pointed out that, generally, costs don’t go down, but sharing services offer more educational opportunities to the students.

STATE TESTING

The board then turned to budgetary matters. 

Gallagher said there may be as much as $20,000 added to the 2014-15 Westport Central School budget due to a rise in heating costs. 

However, this would be countered by savings from a teacher retiring at the end of the current school year. 

Gallagher complimented Cindy Moody, who handles the district’s finances through BOCES shared services.

STATE TESTING

Discussion also ensued over state-mandated testing. 

For parents to opt their children out of the exams, Gallagher said, “is a terrible mistake. Parents need to get on their elected officials.”

“I am extremely proud of the way our teachers have gone into Common Core,” Principal Michele Friedman added. 

“We didn’t have any students missing the test. Only one student was absent one day, and it was made up. 

“I did see teachers do everything possible to make it easier on the students.”

Board member Tom Kohler had some concerns about the testing. 

“I’m speaking as a parent,” he said. “I think there needs to be conversations among educators to promote stress reduction.”

“We will do whatever we can to help parents,” Friedman said. “They can (even) come and sit in a classroom to see a math lesson.”

Email Alvin Reiner:rondackrambler@yahoo.com.

BUDGET TIMELINE

Westport Central School Board will hold a special budget meeting at 5:30 tonight in the school library. It is open to all.

A public budget and regular meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 8, in the school cafeteria, also open to the public.

The budget vote will be held from noon to 9 p.m. Tuesday, May 20, outside the school's Bulles Auditorium.