As school districts across Long Island struggle to cope with rising costs — particularly in terms of employee contract obligations and benefits — all while staying under the state’s two percent tax cap, two East End school districts have taken a proactive approach to cutting costs by doing something truly revolutionary.
They are sharing a superintendent.
When Greenport’s school superintendent Michael Comanda retires at the end of this school year, instead of being replaced by a new hire, his position will be taken over by David Gamberg, Southold’s superintendent, who will oversee both districts.
These two districts are not consolidated, but they have worked together to share costs in recent years through multiple shared service agreements — from AP courses to theatrical performances.
We love this idea. And we particularly love that, in this latest example, it was the superintendents themselves who proposed the merger of their positions. It’s the first time any two districts on Long Island have shared a superintendent and because livelihoods are at stake when a position is merged, perhaps the only logical way this kind of thing can happen is when superintendents, in fact, propose the idea themselves.
It’s somewhat similar to what happened at the end of last year when Jack Pryor, principal of Bridgehampton School, retired and suggested that instead of hiring a replacement, the district expand school superintendent Dr. Lois Favre’s role to include Pryor’s position — eliminating the need to add another full salary to the budget.
It’s quite a contrast to what we saw recently with the failed vote to explore school consolidation between the Tuckahoe and Southampton districts. We feel down the road a merger of those two districts could have saved taxpayers a pile of money, but now it is not to be.
Which is a shame, because shared services, if not out and out consolidation, feels like an inevitable part of our future.
Given the size of our schools, there are simply too many superintendents on the East End. We can’t continue to finance this system and it will have to change at some point in the not too distant future, which is why we like the fact that Comanda and Gamberg were the ones to make it happen on the North Fork.
In the meantime, there is much more to consider besides full consolidation, a word which still scares many people.
Shared services is not only about saving money on administrative salaries and supplies, it also allows many options in terms of greater educational opportunity for students. Schools not large enough to offer certain courses, for example, can offer those courses jointly with another district and bring class sizes up to a point where they justify a teacher’s salary.
We also like the way shared classes can introduce students from one district to those in another. The South Fork’s villages and hamlets are in close proximity, yet unless they are enrolled in an activity outside of those offered by their school, students live in a vacuum here and aren’t given an opportunity to socialize with peers in neighboring districts.
And we feel it’s about time for that to change too.
Thanksgiving is upon us once again and we invite readers to take this opportunity to pause and take stock of all they have to be grateful for this year.
Here on the East End we live in a truly magical place, which is why it’s important we help those who are less fortunate. So we encourage residents to not only notice of the good work being done by our local food pantries, but ask that you consider making a monetary donation to them as well.
Federal food stamp programs have been drastically cut. This is a hard time to be hungry on the East End, so please show your compassion and appreciation by helping the pantries make sure no one goes to bed hungry this winter.