To the editor:
I want to thank the Enterprise for encouraging a discussion about the potential for sharing services among Tri-Lakes school districts. I know that school boards, district staff and others have been discussing consolidating and sharing services for some time, the most prominent being the vote on consolidation of Saranac Lake and Lake Placid schools in 1989 - an idea that was soundly rejected by both constituencies. As one person who participated in this process, I know how much time and energy went into that discussion. I felt at the time that a shared high school in Ray Brook - which would have been paid for almost entirely with state monies - was perhaps the most economically viable option for our huge district, even though I had mixed feelings about the idea.
Sharing a superintendent does not seem to me to be a good idea, however. Given a budget approaching $30,000,000, it would be penny wise and pound foolish for the small amount of savings each district would realize. A business of this size needs its own CEO available 24-7. We need a superintendent on campus and present and constantly evaluating the quality of education we deliver. One of the key jobs of a superintendent, for example, is evaluating the principals; this is where the rubber hits the road. Assuring that principals make good decisions when hiring teachers - and especially when that vitally important tenure recommendation is made - is one of the best ways to insure our tax dollars are well spent. With the myriad other responsibilities of the superintendency, from budgeting to working with the board to community relations, in addition to monitoring the quality of education, there simply is not enough time in a day for one person to properly supervise two districts.
Funding a quality education can only be assured with other, more significant changes than sharing the superintendency. Mandate relief is often cited, but there are other options as well. One of the major drivers of budget increases is health care; a more efficient national approach to this issue would make a huge difference locally. Another option would be shifting the funding mechanism from relying so heavily on property taxes to relying more on a graduated income tax. This was a state initiative some years back but seems to have been dropped from discussion in recent years.
I look forward to further discussion of how we can support education in our region. I only hope that in our focus on controlling costs we do not lose sight of our most important goal - offering our children a chance to enjoy successful lives and careers.