LAKE PLACID - The Lake Placid and Saranac Lake school boards continue to look for ways to share services.
A 45-minute joint meeting was held at the Lake Placid Middle-High School cafeteria Tuesday night. The boards reviewed the work of four committees appointed earlier this fall to explore potential areas for shared services. The presidents of both school boards said they felt the joint meetings have been productive so far.
"We're finding areas where we are sharing but we just didn't know about," Lake Placid school board President Mary Dietrich said. "We're finding out that there are some good things that they're doing over at Saranac Lake that our kids could take advantage of, and there's good things that we're doing over here that their kids could take advantage of."
The Saranac Lake and Lake Placid school boards met again on Tuesday to discuss opportunities for sharing more services. From left are Lake Placid school board Vice President Janet Smith, Saranac Lake school board President Debra Lennon, Lake Placid school board President Mary Dietrich, Saranac Lake school board Vice President Clyde Baker and Lake Placid school Superintendent Randy Richards.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Morris)
"It's a slow process," Saranac Lake school board President Debra Lennon said. "I think we're going to notice a lot more of what we've decided, and we're going to have some more results, probably in the spring. We're going to see this more when the budgets start coming out."
The committee on instructional services held two meetings and discussed classes that could be shared at the high school level. It also looked at consolidating and sharing school calendars.
Lennon said sharing a schedule would be important if the districts wanted to share classes. The schools have shared class lists and enrollments to find out which courses could be combined.
"We're looking at those types of things that could broaden what students have for classes to take," Lennon said.
Lennon said Saranac Lake would need to get something like a Tandberg Unit, a video-conferencing system, so students could attend classes without traveling. Lake Placid already has one.
Lake Placid school board member Phil Baumbach said the committee found it would be easier and less expensive for teachers to travel back and forth between districts than for students to be bused.
Baumbach said many of these possibilities will be clearer when the budget process starts.
Lake Placid school board member Patti Gallagher said the committee had two meetings "that seemed to be really positive." She said the committee found that Saranac Lake has "huge strengths where Lake Placid has needs."
Gallagher said Dan Bower and Leonard Sauers, budget officers for the Saranac Lake and Lake Placid school districts, respectively, looked at what Ruth Pino, food service director for Saranac Lake, could do for Lake Placid.
"There are a lot of similarities about how the schools, the food service areas, are structured," Gallagher said. "It seems like we will be able to move forward with that."
Gallagher noted that Lake Placid's food service consultant, Jim Bigley, will leave the district, so Pino's expertise could prove helpful.
Bower said Pino will need to visit Lake Placid to see if the menus being used by Saranac Lake could work in the other district. Bower said Lake Placid should invest in the same menu and recipe software that Saranac Lake uses.
Lake Placid school board member Martha Stahl said the districts could look at shifting people around in both business offices to maximize their strengths.
"One of the things we talked about is that there's nobody in either district who had a lot of time to do things like grant writing," she said. "So we thought if we looked at those organizational charts, we might see some things where we could share some services that would free up staff time to focus on other areas."
Stahl said Bower and Sauers will explore the possibility of sharing the same system for things like payroll, accounting and taxes.
Stahl also talked about streamlining tax collection. She said the districts could work with local banks to set up more places for people to pay their taxes in person.
"One of the things that we talked about was that when taxpayers come into the district office to pay their taxes, whoever is working gets pulled away from whatever they're doing to go and do that customer service piece," she said. "Perhaps if we looked at having the banks and more options for people to pay, that could be helpful."
Saranac Lake school board member Clyde Baker said he spoke with Harrietstown town Clerk Patricia Gillmett, who told him the town could collect tax payments. The school districts would still be responsible for processing the payments, Baker added.
Stahl said the districts could also make large purchases of things like paper and other office supplies together.
"If we can't purchase them together, at least have them shipped together," she said. "Saranac Lake has a warehouse, and we could store items from both districts in that warehouse."
Transportation, buildings and grounds
Saranac Lake school board member Terrence Tubridy said the two districts are already sharing transportation services.
"If we have kids going north on a bus for a sports, especially skiing, we take care of Lake Placid," he said. "If it's south, Lake Placid, our kids come to here, and then they take them from there."
Tubridy said Sauers is also the effective supervisor for buildings and grounds in Lake Placid.
"He's busier than a one-armed paper hanger," Tubridy said. "He's in the react mode - not a lot of chance for long-term planning or preventive maintenance. If there's any place where we think we can share, it'd be at the supervisor level."
Tubridy said Saranac Lake's facilities director, Lee Daunais, will retire at the end of the school year. The district's could share the position, Tubridy said, but there would need to be a careful study of whether one person could do both jobs.
Lake Placid school board member John Hopkinson said both facilities departments have been hit pretty hard by budget cuts in recent years. He said demands have increased, too, because of more night, weekend and summer activities at both schools.
"They're getting squeezed on both sides, personnel-wise," Hopkinson said.
"I think the thing that did come out, with the shared supervisor, is it may be an opportune time to do it given the fact that some of the people are going to be retiring," he added. "This would be a good time to jump in on that.
The school boards will come together again at 7 p.m. Nov. 1 for a presentation on opportunities for shared services by the Rochester-based Center for Governmental Research. The presentation will be held in the large group instruction room at Saranac Lake High School.
The group was hired by AdkAction.org to do the study at no charge to the districts. Dietrich said they are looking at the size of the districts and their budgets for comparison with other school districts around the state that have shared services.
"We're all kind of unclear as to what specifics we're going to get," Dietrich said. "I think they might be able to let us know if we're on the right track with what we're working on."
The two districts will continue to hold joint meetings. The next one is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Dec. 5 at the Petrova school library.