Amity Region Five Schools Superintendent Jennifer Byars brought a guest speaker to a special meeting of the board of education late last month. “We’ve looked at a few options to address our unique situation where we already have a regional school district and three elementary school districts. We talked about other opportunities such as cooperative agreements, supervision districts and shared services,” Byars says. Ruth Levy recently retired as superintendent in Region Four, which at the middle and high school level include the towns of Deep River, Chester and Essex, each with their own elementary district. She presented an alternative to regionalization to the board.
“For 13 years, we at Region Four thought maybe we should regionalize, but that did not happen for us. There was opposition to regionalization. There was resistance to loss of local financial control, and local ‘having a say,’” she says. Instead, the three towns opted to form what’s called a ‘supervision district.’ Her intent was to share the practicalities of living in such a district and to provide the board of education with information on that option for consideration.
In Region Four, members of the four boards of education total 33, 12 of whom serve on a supervision district committee. The supervision district is chartered through a 1964 agreement between the four boards of education and in 2000 it was modified to fund some services that could be shared across the five schools. “It was established way back when, when they were looking for efficiencies for our services,” Levy says.
Efficiencies included hiring a single superintendent and central office for the supervisory district for grades pre-K through 12 along with consolidating many shared services between the schools. “But it requires us to have five school boards for the three towns with 33 members in order to comply with draconian state laws,” she says.
Central office includes the superintendent, assistant superintendent, director of technology, business director and director of pupil services. Administrative services, curriculum, special education, food services, elementary enrichment and summer school are also run from the central office.
“There isn’t just savings, there is value in consistency. This allows us to have a vertical flow and a curriculum that is uniform,” Levy says. “When I came to the district, each elementary school had its own curriculum and that made it very difficult when students reached grade 7 at different levels of proficiencies.”
Savings have been found in sharing special education personnel, nurses, library media specialists, network technicians and other areas. The streamlining doesn’t come without complications, though, particularly with payroll, when teachers often have dual roles and receive two pay checks, according to Levy. In addition, a supervision district is not recognized as an LEA (local education agency), even though it is considered a financial entity with an EIN number.
At budget planning time, each local board of education prepares an itemized estimate for the cost of maintenance for the upcoming year. The budget is drafted by the supervisory board, reviewed, debated and approved for public review at a public meeting of the supervision district committee and then on to a public input. The budget then goes to each individual district for their vote.
As with any major change involving more than one municipality, there are challenges with forming a supervisory district. First and foremost are: gaining consensus, balancing the needs of all towns involved, changing contracts and even conventional attitudes interfering with what could be creative solutions.
After her presentation, Levy answered questions from board of education members, who were curious about such items as teachers’ contracts, policies and the role of administrators. “This took time, it’s not something you can do overnight, but over time we were able to negotiate our district as one,” she explains.
By Melissa Nicefaro – Orange Town News Correspondent