Schools consider sharing resources

09/21/2011

Amidst recent state budget cuts, looming retirements and internal administrative reorganizations, the Shoreline Unified, Bolinas-Stinson and Lagunitas school districts and Marin County Superintendent of Schools Mary Jane Burke convened at Walker Creek Ranch Monday for a special joint board meeting to explore options for personnel and resource sharing in the 2012-13 school year. 

“There’s a lot of different [sharing] structures that are going on [in Marin,]” Burke said in her opening address to the boards. “And there’s definitely no one right way to do it. Districts thought [sharing] would be good for them, good for kids, [that they] could be more efficient, [and] could get more economy of scale.” In the last 24 months, California has slashed Marin County’s education budget by $75 million. Trigger cuts, which are enacted if the state does not meet projected tax revenues, are expected mid-school year, in December. 

At Monday’s meeting, individual boards twice broke out into county-facilitated focus groups to discuss their current administrative structures, potential changes and how the county might consult or assist them in minimizing associated costs. After reconvening as a larger group, board presidents reported on their discussions and collaborative question-and-answer sessions followed. 

In Shoreline’s individual session, the board discussed its plans to relieve an overextended Dr. Stephen Rosenthal, who serves as the district’s superintendent and Tomales High School principal, by hiring a full-time principal. Although combining the positions saves the district $150,000, the position is not efficient or tenable on a long-term basis. Because the superintendent’s workload alone would not constitute a full-time commitment and the district is limited to 3.5 administrative personnel, board members brainstormed how they could create the perfect half-time employee. 

There were two likely scenarios. The board could either contract a full-time position and sell half of his services to the county or share a superintendent with another nearby district. 

Bolinas-Stinson and Lagunitas boards shared a similar challenge. With shared superintendent Larry Enos considering retirement at the end of 2012 or 2013, they discussed how they might find their desired half-time superintendent. Options under consideration were collaborating on another shared arrangement or alternatively hiring a full-timer and selling half of his or her services to the county. 

All three districts expressed concern over finding a candidate with either prior institutional knowledge or a willingness to learn very different school cultures and systems.
“You’re describing a high level of expertise,” Burke said. “What Larry does in Bolinas must be different than what he does in Lagunitas. The ability to do that requires someone who’s very, very high functioning. Some people describe how they do their work by what they don’t do. Those kinds of people…are not a fit for being in public education at this time.” 

Shoreline board members, who are considering appointing Rosenthal to the half-time role when his contract expires in 2012, discussed setting up a leadership program that would groom district teachers for the superintendent position to avoid an institutional learning curve in the future. Board members also realized that geography might pose a significant hurdle for sharing at Shoreline, which stretches from Bodega Bay to Point Reyes and Inverness.

Lagunitas stressed the importance of finding a workhorse to overcome the institutional knowledge problem. “Someone that would look at doing two districts would be slightly insane anyway, so we just play off that at that point,” Lagunitas Board President Denise Santa Cruz-Bohman said to the group. “It’s not for the faint hearted.” Additionally, Bolinas-Stinson expressed interest in sharing a business manager, and Shoreline suggested the possibility of splitting the costs of a legal team. 

Although none of the boards motioned for a request for formal assistance from the county, they agreed to another joint meeting in December during which more specific negotiations about shared services and personnel might take place.
Bolinas-Stinson Board President Arianne Dar was pleased with the insights she gained from sharing information and perspectives with other school boards. 

“What people like about this meeting is being able to maintain their own autonomy but possibly collaborate in some ways that we haven’t,” Dar said. “I think that’s what’s exciting and compelling. The notion of not a West Marin district but West Marin districts working together to educate kids.”
Rosenthal echoed Dar’s assessment.

“Anytime you can get a bunch of committed people together, it’s a good meeting,” Rosenthal said. “And this definitely proves that. I don’t know where or what, but I think it will lead to some additional cooperation.”