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Franklin-Essex-Hamilton BOCES Superintendent Stephen Shafer, left, discusses superintendent search options with Saranac Lake school board members at the board's July 25 meeting. Photo courtesy of Adirondack Daily Entyerprise.
Franklin-Essex-Hamilton BOCES Superintendent Stephen Shafer, left, discusses superintendent search options with Saranac Lake school board members at the board's July 25 meeting. Photo courtesy of Adirondack Daily Entyerprise.

Tri Lakes schools consider sharing superintendents

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As more school districts across the state are pressed to consider consolidation, there's a debate brewing in the Tri-Lakes about whether some of the area's school districts should consider sharing a single superintendent.

School officials in the area are open to talking about the possibility of sharing superintendents, but it's unclear whether there's enough momentum to move beyond the talking stage. The Saranac Lake and Lake Placid school boards are planning a joint meeting to discuss opportunities to share services later this month or in early September.

Chris Knight has our story. (Chris Morris contributed to this report.)

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Chris Knight
Adirondack Correspondent

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At its meeting last week, the Saranac Lake school board discussed the process of searching for new superintendent to replace Gerald Goldman, who’s retiring at the end of the upcoming school year.

Inevitably, the question came up of whether the board should talk about sharing the position with the neighboring Lake Placid School District, which also has a pending superintendent vacancy. But some board members said they don't want to wait to see what Lake Placid does before getting started on their own search.

The discussion was just a taste of what’s become a hot-button issue in the area, as three school districts within 30 miles of each other – Keene, Lake Placid and Saranac Lake – all have current or pending superintendent vacancies.

Terry Tubridy is a Saranac Lake school board member.

“We’ve got kind of the perfect storm here,” he said. “We’ve got what’s going with the economy, and now we have probably for the first time in a while, we’ve got the superintendents leaving at the same time. So we have the opportunity here.”

But whether that opportunity is worth seizing is up for debate.  

Although she’s open to exploring the idea, Saranac Lake school board President Debra Lennon has said she doesn’t thinking sharing a superintendent with another district makes sense, given her district's large size relative to its neighbors.

Fellow board member Katie Fischer agrees, “I personally think Saranac Lake’s quite a big district to try and share superintendents. I think it’d be more of a win win if it was Lake Placid-Ausable, Keene Valley. I do think Gerry has a full-time job in Saranac Lake.”

But board Vice President Clyde Baker said he thinks one person could handle the workload of running both the Lake Placid and Saranac Lake school districts, “It’s something that definitely has to be looked into. I don't think it's something where you can say, 'No, it's not going to work,' without sitting down and having the conversation with the other boards.”

Some Saranac Lake board members hinted that an old-time Saranac Lake-Lake Placid rivalry, and personality conflicts between the communities could be a stumbling block to the two school districts coming together.

In Lake Placid, new school board President Mary Dietrich said identifying more opportunities to share services is a top priority for her board. "The obvious place to look at is the superintendency," Dietrich said. "I think like any kind of merger, though, the first thought is why it won't work, so there’s some issues that depending on the school district, you might have to look at."

Dietrich said two things need to be studied: whether one person can handle all of the responsibilities, and how much money would actually be saved.

Officials at Keene Central are already looking into the feasibility of sharing a superintendent with another school district - or at least the possibility of a part-timer.

Meanwhile, a pair of small Franklin County school districts that shared a superintendent during the past school year, St. Regis Falls and Brushton-Moira, are mulling whether to continue doing so.

Brushton-Moira school board president Dennis Egan said the cost savings was the big driver and one of the benefits of the move. He said it’s also opened the door to sharing other positions and creating joint educational programs between the two small districts.

Egan encouraged the Tri-Lakes area districts to consider the possibility, noting that the state is pushing school districts to share services and consolidate, “We have to think differently. We have to think outside the box. Just because we’ve done it in the past 20 or 30 years this way, doesn’t mean we can keep doing it the same way in the future. We have to change.”

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