Hamburg’s town supervisor has called on the two school districts in the town to combine their administrations, following the recent announcements that the schools chiefs for both districts are leaving.
And while four Niagara County school districts already share two superintendents, Steven Walters’ suggestion isn’t getting much traction with the Frontier and Hamburg school boards.
“I think this is the time that we need to really take a hard look at that, and I would call upon the respective school boards to take a look at that in an effort to try and save some money and expenses to the taxpayers,” Walters said last week.
He suggested they should look at consolidating and sharing administration services, but continue to operate as two separate districts.
Both school districts are searching for new superintendents, after the surprise resignation of their top administrators within a month of each other.
School districts run independently from town government, and both districts are deciding who will lead their searches.
Hamburg Superintendent Steven A. Achramovitch submitted his resignation for retirement effective Aug. 10. Frontier Superintendent James C. Bodziak announced July 9 that he will step down Sept. 9. Bodziak was paid $189,000 a year, while Achramovitch earned $170,000.
Hamburg School Board president David Yoviene, has been a member of the board since July 1.
“I’m getting a taste of what they do in Hamburg. Boy, it’s a lot,” he said. “I don’t think one guy could do it all. What would you really be saving? You’d still need a fleet of assistant superintendents.”
Frontier Board President Janet MacGregor Plarr would not comment on the possibility of the two districts sharing a superintendent, but she said consolidation should be done on a larger level.
“If you want to look at true consolidation of services, everyone should be utilizing a regional school model, with BOCES overseeing all the districts of Western New York,” said Plarr, who also is on the Erie 1 BOCES School Board. “Across New York State as a whole, we need to relook at how education is funded and how services are provided.”
Sharing the top administrators is occurring in Niagara County, where Barker Superintendent Roger J. Klatt also became superintendent for Royalton-Hartland July 1, after the Roy-Hart superintendent took another job.
And two weeks ago, Wilson Superintendent Michael Wendt also became interim superintendent for Newfane.
“The problem with the shares currently is everybody thinks they can do it now,” said Orleans Niagara BOCES Superintendent Clark J. Godshall.
The Barker-Roy-Hart sharing came about when “the stars aligned,” and a lot of planning went into the move, which is for one year, he said. The two districts have good infrastructure and resources, such as a competent veteran staff, as well as an experienced superintendent in Klatt, he said.
“We’re doing it incrementally for a year, then we’re going to review, see how it goes,” Godshall said. “This was a very thoughtful decision and not just a political quick fix.”
Newfane’s superintendent retired June 30 and the district signed up Wendt for about three months while the districts decide if it is a good fit.
The enrollment at Frontier is 5,000 and at Hamburg it is 3,700. The Niagara County districts are much smaller.
Barker has just under 900, and Roy-Hart has about 1,400. There are about 1,700 students in Newfane and 1,300 at Wilson.
The sharing of superintendents works because the districts are small, Godshall said.
Barker and Roy-Hart already have some shared programs, such as the football team, and the wrestling team is being merged as are some special-education programs.
Those are benefits to the students with an additional benefit of cost savings, said Klatt, who added that the main reason for the superintendent sharing was not to save money.
“We’ve had an existing partnership. This is another partnership we want to believe will be effective in moving each district forward,” Klatt said.
Klatt’s salary would have been $156,000 this year at Barker, and his new salary for overseeing the two districts is $174,000. The cost is split evenly between Barker and Roy-Hart.
Plarr said Frontier offers summer school to students from a number of districts, and some Frontier students attend Hamburg’s EMT classes. Frontier also shares non-educational items, such as its gas pumps, with the Village of Blasdell, where Plarr is village administrator.
Hamburg’s Yoviene said he doesn’t think one person could handle the two jobs in Hamburg and Frontier.
“I don’t think you could find someone interested in taking on such a monumental task,” he said, but he added, “Everyone wants lower taxes, I understand that.”
“I would caution that the practice of sharing, it should not be universally applied to any district,” Klatt said.