CHESHIRE, Mass. — Adams-Cheshire Regional School District is in need of a superintendent; North Adams already has one.
So school officials in both districts are discussing whether it might be feasible to share the top position.
Adams-Cheshire voted to support the idea on Monday night; the North Adams School Committee will take up the issue tonight (Tuesday).
"There is an opportunity to share a superintendent in North County and that could be groundbreaking," Adams-Cheshire Chairman Paul Butler said. "When you look at population trends and student enrollment and funding from the state it only makes sense to look at opportunities like this."
With the recommendation from the Berkshire County Education Task Force to consolidate into a single "super district" to adapt to shrinking population, consolidation has been on the minds of school districts throughout the county. Sharing services has been seen as a crucial step in beginning that long road of partnering across borders.
Late last year, current Superintendent Robert Putnam announced his retirement at the end of this school year and Putnam noted Monday that although applications are coming in, the district could also be the first to make a move.
"It would be groundbreaking," He said. "It would sort of be a feather in our cap if this is successful because shared superintendents are rare."
There aren't many in Berkshire County and none that oversee school districts with such different governmental structures. While Adams-Cheshire is a regional district overseen by an elected board, North Adams is a single district with an elected board headed by the city's mayor. In contrast, Northern Berkshire School Union is made up of five town school districts that share a superintendent and other administrators. (And the North Adams School Committee will also be taking up a shared services agreement with NBSU to share a business administrator.)
The School Committee went through a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis on Monday to explore what sharing a superintendent with a neighboring district, such as North Adams, may look like.
Members agreed there would be obvious monetary savings that would allow more resources to be poured back into the district.
One weakness committee members brought up was that a shared superintendent may not be able to give Adams-Cheshire her full attention.
"Someone will have to split their time and it may not be equal," School Committee member Adam Emerson said. "You can only stop one crisis at a time."
There was also the fear that the Adams-Cheshire would lose some control over its district.
Hoosac Valley Elementary Principal Michele Colvin had similar concerns, especially with immediate maintenance issues at the school.
"I talk to you three times a day about the facility and I worry about that and issues with heat, water and masonry," she said. "I worry. Rob is here full time. We have his undivided attention for three schools."
But Putnam added that by sharing a superintendent, the districts could also share services such as a facilities manager, a position Adams-Cheshire let go of years ago. The superintendent does not typically deal with maintenance directly, he said.
There could be opportunities to possibly share other services, faculty, facilities and academics between two districts.
This caused some pause among the administrators who thought the School Committee's conversation was steering toward merging districts, instead of just sharing a superintendent.
Butler said Monday's conversation merely outlined possible outgrowths that could follow a shared superintendent.
Putnam said the final form of this may be consolidation, but the district would not be looking to merger at this point in time.
He did say the agreement would act, in some ways, as a test to see if consolidation at this scale would work in the county. However, the first step would to be to organize a solid superintendent agreement.
"I think that any exploration of something like a shared superintendent is dependent on a successful shared superintendency," he said. "Rather than thinking beyond that, all energy would be set to ensure that this is successful and it meets the needs of both districts. Once that happens then new paths open up."
Putnam said he has worked closely with not only North Adams Superintendent Barbara Malkas but other neighboring districts and, over the past few years, together Northern Berkshire school districts have brought in more than $600,000 in grant funding to help explore consolidation opportunities and better education.
"We have a track record and the districts here in Northern Berkshire County have been very successful with grant applications," he said. "There is strength in numbers and we want to optimize the resources available to us."
Colvin asked if a standing superintendent would just take the post or would there be a new hiring process.
Putnam said the district would use a current superintendent who already is familiar with the leadership role. He said it would be better to bring on someone who has already proven themselves to be a strong administrator and superintendent.
He added that the agreement would be a simple contract that the district could leave whenever it wanted.
The school officials asked how introducing this option while searching for a new superintendent would affect the search. They feared it could dampen the applicant pool.
Putnam said there are more than 50 superintendent searches going on throughout the state at this time and that Berkshire County salaries are not terribly competitive. He said response will already be dampened.
This way the district has all options open, he said.
"We can do this simultaneously so whatever option appears to be the best for Adams-Cheshire, I think that would be your decision to make but at least you are exploring all of the options," he said.
While North Adams was mentioned in the motion and that committee will discuss the same agenda item Tuesday night, Putnam said other neighboring districts are privy to the idea and there is no set plan with a single district.
Butler did mention that he recently met with Malkas and Mayor Thomas Bernard.
"I think it is very important to move it forward and as a caveat, I have met with the new mayor and the superintendent and they both seem enthusiastic about the ideas," he said. "I think this certainly makes sense."