NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — North Adams is exploring the idea of sharing services and administration with the neighboring Adams-Cheshire Regional School District.
The School Committee on Tuesday endorsed fast-tracking an aspect of a two-year feasibility study to look specifically at how a shared superintendent might work. That portion of the study is being expedited because of the coming retirement of Adams-Cheshire Superintendent Robert Putnam. The regional school committee voted on the matter Monday night.
But the city is also moving forward immediately with another group of school districts to share a business manager.
(The city's veterans agent has also become a regional agent with other town's reimbursing the city for his services.)
North Berkshire School Union's Business Manager Carrie Burnett will take on the duties for both the union and city school district. The supervisory union committee, made up of representatives from Clarksburg, Florida, Savoy, Monroe and Rowe, is expected to approve the agreement on Feb. 15.
"We're taking a leadership role here in Berkshire County in looking at how do we start to consolidate services in support of some realities regarding declining enrollments and limited options with respect to salaries and attracting highly qualified candidates," Superintendent Barbara Malkas said as the committee approved entering into the business manager agreement.
Sharing services is considered one of the steps in consolidating school districts in Berkshire County. The Berkshire Education Task Force, chaired by former School Committee member John Hockridge, has called for a "super" district that would cover the entire county.
That option is years away, but the consultant that worked with the task force on Phase 2 of its report was able to help districts looking into consolidations to acquire a two-year grant from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.
District Management Group will conduct a feasibility study on how sharing services or consolidation might work, looking at administration, academics, personnel, facilities, goals and other areas.
Malkas said DMG believes it can interview stakeholders and do enough analysis to provide both school districts with options on sharing a superintendent within two months.
"There is the pressing need that the Adams-Cheshire School District has a retiring superintendent and is in a superintendent search," Malkas said. "It does allow us to think about it in more specific terms with a geographic neighbor."
School Committee members were amenable as long as the city was not locked into any decision that night.
Mayor Thomas Bernard said he and the superintendent have already had conversations with Adams-Cheshire.
"One of the reasons is we're looking at a situation where statewide there is significant competition for these types of positions," the mayor said. "We have the benefit in our district in that we have a strong superintendent."
He reminded the committee that sharing a superintendent would not mean a change in governance structure, but rather that Malkas would report to two boards.
"I think it's an opportunity we would be remiss not to take," said member Karen Bond.
The city is already breaking ground in being the first to share services among very different governmental models. School unions have shared central offices but between similar town schools. Several years ago, the so-called tri-district of Mount Greylock, Williamstown and Lanesborough entered into an administrative shared services agreement but it was seen as the first step in a regionalization being implemented this year.
The School Department had not been able to replace Business Manager Nancy Ziter, who retired at the end of the year. Ziter had offered to stay on in a reduced capacity but the city was unable to get a waiver from the 60-day prohibition. Last month, the School Committee hired The Management Solution as a temporary stopgap.
Burnett's salary from Feb. 26 through June 30, 2019, will be $120,822 based on an annual salary of $90,000. Salaries for the next two years of the three-year contract will be negotiated.
Salary and benefits will be shared equally between the city and school union; North Adams will pick up her health insurance coverage, as being more cost-effective.
Malkas said there would be some overlap with The Management Solution and Ziter would come in on an hourly basis to help bring Burnett up to speed.
"I feel Ms. Burnett is a highly qualified candidate and up to the task of completing this job and forging this new territory," she said.
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