SARANAC LAKE — If two heads are better than one, maybe two boards could be, too.
The Lake Placid and Saranac Lake school boards met jointly recently to discuss what services might be shared in their districts.
The meeting was called ostensibly to review prospects for sharing a superintendent.
The schools’ central buildings are roughly 10 miles apart. Both are losing top district administrators at the end of the current school year.
But, before hiring someone to juggle different calendars or combine purchasing, the boards decided to explore that themselves, first.
Board presidents Deb Lennon, from Saranac Lake, and Mary Dietrich, from Lake Placid, orchestrated the meeting together.
No one from either board challenged the possibilities or potential, looking instead for points of cooperation that might enrich students’ education and save taxpayers money.
DOWN THE ROAD
After about 15 minutes, the boards realized they weren’t going to focus on sharing an administrator.
“The more we can share before hiring a superintendent is a better idea,” Lake Placid Board Member Martha Stahl opined.
“Not that we’re never going to consider it,” Deitrich replied.
“Never say never.”
“Where are we, together?” Lennon asked aloud. “What goals do we have that would enable us to work together? And does that mean, somewhere down the road, one school district?”
The questions steered conversation and at the same time set a boundary.
Saranac Lake is a district encompassing part or all of seven towns already, and Lake Placid encompasses two towns.
The idea is not a merger.
Dietrich raised the example of how North Elba and the Village of Lake Placid established a Memorandum of Understanding several years ago, allowing them to slowly combine and share what did fit without eradicating either municipal entity.
“It may be a model for what we’re trying to do,” she said.
Saranac Lake Board member Esther Arlan said they should examine how the schools’ schedules align.
“We need to find goals that can be accomplished in the short term,” she said, and then build from there.
“I really like the idea, too, of the sharing of goals,” Lake Placid Board member Patty Gallagher said, observing that “every school district is going to have to look for ways to change things.”
“Can we offer more to students?” Lake Placid member John Hopkinson asked, wondering aloud if shared career paths and joint educational training for existing staff might benefit everyone with “a larger sandbox to play in.”
“Shared teaching instruction would also encourage collaboration,” Gallagher said.
Saranac Lake Board member Terry Turbridy thought they might look at the personnel situation to see if any retirements are coming in either district and how those needs align.
Turbridy recommended they set a deadline for some kind of working plan.
“We really need to have a firm idea by the end of December,” he said, ahead of school-budget planning.
Committees were organized and intend to meet before another joint gathering in October.
They divided prospects into two groups to start: non-academic services and educational programming.
Then they broke down the non-academic aspect into specific areas: business/co-operative purchasing, food services and property management.
Saranac Lake Superintendent Gerald Goldman reminded board members not to forget some students from both schools already share BOCES vocational programs.
There has long been a problem for most of them, he said, because the Saranac Lake and Lake Placid schedules are different.
“It is already a disadvantage to our students that we don’t share schedules,” he said.
Goldman said the boards will have to find points for integration, and they should expect resistance.
“If they (opportunities to share services) were going to come naturally, they would be here already.”
Goldman recommended they develop a two- or three-year plan to allow time to reorganize on both ends.
The next joint meeting is at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 16 in Lake Placid.
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