The Glenwood Board of Education is looking into the idea of sharing a district superintendent, perhaps with the Malvern School District, as a cost-cutting solution to replace out-going Glenwood superintendent Dr. Stan Sibley, scheduled to retire on July 1.
The possibility of a shared superintendent role first surfaced publicly at last week’s meeting of the Glenwood school board. During discussion about the search process for Sibley’s replacement, board member Dave Warren asked board president Theresa Romens if “she had a chance to talk to Malvern about sharing a superintendent.”
Romens replied to Warren, “I have not spoken to anyone in Malvern yet, but I will be making a call.”
When asked about her comments later, Romens said Malvern and Nishna Valley are possible targets for a shared superintendent arrangement, saying no discussions have taken place with any school board, but that the idea is being considered.
Susan Stogdill, president of the Malvern School Board, said she received a call from Romens last Friday, four days after the matter surfaced at the Glenwood school board meeting.
“It was very unofficial. Theresa just asked if we would be interested in having a conversation (about sharing a superintendent),” said Stogdill, who has served on the Malvern board for 16 years, the last three as president.
Stogdill said she personally is willing to discuss the idea with Glenwood.
“As one person on the board with one vote, I can’t speak for the board at all. I think anytime there are conversations to be had I think about the old quote ‘It’s better to be at the table than on the plate.’ So I just think it’s a consideration to have a conversation,” she said.
Romens envisions the future role of the district superintendent as more of a regional head, perhaps on a county level, representing all the school districts in that county. There are currently 361 school districts in Iowa’s 99 counties.
“Legislatively that’s probably going to be something they are going to decide down the road,” said Romens. “It makes sense to me if we can share those kinds of positions in the community. We all know each other, we’re all related and this can share expenses. The superintendent (position) is a huge dollar expense. His salary and benefit package is a huge expense.”
“Anyway we can save money for the district without directly affecting the kids and the classrooms we have to do,” said Warren in a Thursday interview.
It’s cost saving, yes, Warren agrees, but he thinks sharing a superintendent also opens up school districts to ask: where else can we share?
“This scenario can work as long as districts don’t feel the need to add assistant superintendents. If that’s the case the overhead would stay the same,” he said.
At the same time, Warren admits, he’s not 100 percent sold on the idea of sharing a superintendent with another district. But it's a scenario, he said, the district has to look into.
“I think we’d have to move pretty quickly on it,” Warren said. “It may not be an option, I don’t know. Who are we going to share with really? Our options are limited. But if you look at Council Bluffs they have one superintendent and they are much bigger than us. I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility.”
Romens points to a recently announced shared superintendent agreement in the Mason City and Clear Lake School Districts as an example of how the arrangement can work. As part of that arrangement, superintendent Anita Micich was tabbed to lead both districts at a substantial savings for both districts.
Romens admits if Glenwood were to adopt a similar arrangement, the superintendent job description and the responsibilities that come with it would change. But, the prospect of sharing a superintendent along with Iowa’s new core curriculum guidelines, there’s opportunities Romens sees to share curriculum directors, transportation directors or nearly any district administrative position with neighboring districts.
“There’s a lot of possibilities once you break open that first path to sharing,” Romens said. “It can enhance a lot of programs because you’re getting more for your money.”
The Red Oak School District is currently sharing its transportation director with Villisca and a business manager with Stanton.
The Malvern and Nishna Valley School Districts are currently in a whole-grade sharing agreement for high school and middle school. Each district has their own superintendent. The two districts will be holding their regularly scheduled joint board meeting Jan. 28. Stogdill isn’t sure if the idea of sharing a district superintendent with Glenwood will be discussed at that meeting or not.
“I wouldn’t want to say what the board would want one way or another but I always think anytime you’re dealing with student’s education that it’s a good idea to explore each and every opportunity you have,” Stogdill said.
Romens said no meeting has been set to further discuss a shared superintendent but she did not rule out meeting with both the Nishna Valley and Malvern boards at the Jan. 28 meeting.
The Glenwood School Board will use a consulting firm in hiring the district’s new superintendent and has set up Jan. 25 interviews with potential consulting firms Ray and Associates, Inc. and McPherson & Jacobson, LLC. Ray and Associates is based in Cedar Rapids and specializes in nation-wide school executive searches. McPherson & Jacobson is an Omaha-based executive recruitment and development service for public entities.
Romens said the board hopes to find a replacement for Sibley by April 15.