Shared Superintendency Cuts Costs, Helps Meet New Regs
Superintendent Scott Oswald says that sharing administrative responsibility for the Oaklyn as well as the Collingswood school districts would help both meet new state regulations.
Last year, when the Collingswood board of education proposed sharing a superintendent with the Oaklyn school district, the measure fell flat.
Without a guarantee of the number of hours per week whoever held the position would spend in their district, Oaklyn, which already sends its students to Collingswood High School, balked.
“Things just didn’t really come together on that front,” says Collingswood Superintendent Scott Oswald.
What’s changed in the year since? For starters, a number of new regulations have been issued by the state that require serious technical skill to implement. These include the digitally based PARCC assessment, which will replace pencil-and-paper standardized testing with software.
Along with that are the Effective Educators for New Jersey teacher evaluation program and New Jersey Smart statewide data management system, which measures and analyzes students’ test scores.
“There’s just a lot of stuff coming at once,” Oswald says. “At the superintendent level, the larger the district gets, the more assistants that are needed,” he says.
“Typically in neighboring districts, everybody in every district has to know all of it.”
But in a shared-responsibility district, he says, someone would take over the performance measurement aspects of testing, data collection and teacher instruction, freeing up an administrator to handle the supervisory aspects of the role.
“That person would serve those roles in both districts,” he says.
Without a dedicated support staff, tackling such implementations would be a tough row to hoe for any school district. Under the proposed arrangement, Oswald would be the superintendent of record in both Oaklyn and Collingswood, but he would be assisted by someone with expertise in one or two of these new program areas.
“Last year the discussion was a shared superintendent,” he says. “That certainly would have been challenging. I think this is much more doable, makes much more sense. Hopefully it would benefit the kids by aligning our professional development and our curriculum.”
With the retirement of Thomas Anderson, the curriculum coordinator for Collingswood Public Schools, some dollars will be opening up in the district. Between splitting the cost of a child study team and a superintendent, Collingswood could save as much as $25,000 annually for the district.
But Oswald says, the real savings is in the streamlining of the work that must be completed under the new state regulations.
“What you will see and you can see as we move forward and begin to jointly plan, is that we will begin to eliminate a lot of the duplication of work, duplication of effort,” he adds.
“It doesn’t really cost us any more to have the Oaklyn staff involved,” Oswald says. “As we get into it, we figure out ways to become more efficient that nobody might even see right now."
Increasingly, shared services have been a core component of the Collingswood school district cost savings strategies; in the 2012 budget, the board cut enough that taxpayers were issued a refund. But Oswald cautions that the idea of cutbacks and shared services can only save so much.
“We’re often the target of people’s anti-tax sentiment, and I understand that as well,” he says. “People believe that by merging school districts you’re going to save all this money. That just never plays out. The bulk of our costs go into teachers in classrooms with kids.
"If 10 school districts move into the area, you’re still going to need a teacher in every classroom."