LENOX >> Following a yellow light, "proceed with caution" signal from the town's School Committee on Monday night, Superintendent Timothy Lee has decided to apply for the position of joint superintendent with the Lee Tyringham School Union 29, a one-year pilot project designed as a test drive for the concept.
"Many more questions than answers exist at this point," the superintendent acknowledged in an interview on Tuesday. "But I intend to apply and as the process develops, I plan to keep the School Committee advised on the parameters and specifics of the job."
Lee, who is midway through a three-year contract in Lenox, emphasized that the committee members "are my first point of loyalty, and I'll respect their wishes."
During their second discussion on the issue, School Committee members voiced a mixture of support and skepticism on whether to endorse the idea of sharing their superintendent with the neighboring school district. The Lee Tyringham School Union is seeking either a dual arrangement or its own full-time leader for the 2016-17 school year.
So far, Berkshire Hills School Superintendent Peter Dillon is the only applicant looking to succeed interim Superintendent Al Skrocki, said Andrea Wadsworth, chairwoman of the Lee School Committee. Skrocki has been holding the fort for three years, ever since Jason "Jake" McCandless resigned to take over leadership of the Pittsfield school system.
The deadline for applications to fill the advertised position is Nov. 15.
Designated members of the Lee and Lenox school committees have been discussing potential shared services, up to and including a superintendent. Last month, the Lenox committee formally adopted a legal document laying out the ground rules.
On Monday night, the committee did not vote on whether to formally endorse Superintendent Lee's interest in applying for the shared position.
"What disturbs me the most is that it's not a formed position with a framework around it," said School Committee member Robert Munch. "It's an idea out there, and I don't even know how [the Lee district] would make a decision on who to pick if there's multiple candidates."
"There's no road map for Tim to follow," he added, "and he'll be trying to hack his way through the thicket with a machete, and he's going to be pulled in two or three different directions."
Munch worried that "the amount of effort you're supposed to provide for each school district isn't defined, responsibilities, salaries aren't defined. What I see is it would possibly turn into a disaster because we may coming at it from very different points of view. ... I get very concerned that because it's not a very well-formed idea, that it's not going to turn out well, it's not going to be successful."
"You're describing kind of a 'building the plane while you're flying it' scenario," Lee replied.
"Very much so, with a lot of different mechanics," Munch said.
But committee member Francie Sorrentino maintained that "to have one person shared will allow everything else to fall into place, you have to have one person at the helm to oversee this. But Tim may find it's just not going to work."
However, she stated, "if we're as good as we boast to be, and all the reports tell us that we are, cast your fortunes across the waters and spread it three miles down the road and have more than one school be great. And if Richmond wants to jump on board, that we should bring up too."
Committee Chairman Robert Vaughan acknowledged there are "a lot of unknowns and some concerns raised" about the lack of a "road map" describing how a joint superintendency would work.
"As details might emerge about what the opportunity might entail for our district and for myself professionally, there's also a very real possibility that I might learn that it's not something that's of my interest as well," Lee said, adding that, if he were offered the joint position with the neighboring district, he would not go against the wishes of the Lenox committee members if they're not on board with the dual arrangement.
Superintendent Lee pointed out that the school union serving Lee and Tyringham is seeking an applicant from a district that already has a shared services agreement in place. Both Lenox and Berkshire Hills, which serves Great Barrington, Stockbridge and West Stockbridge, have voted to explore collaborations with the Lee district.
Vaughan cited concerns by some that "we have a strong school district with great leadership, and that we would be diminishing our ability to provide all the oversight and supervision that we would share in a superintendent if Tim were 50 percent with us and 50 percent with Lee, or some other district if it came to that."
He conceded that "another layer of administration" likely would be needed, such as an assistant superintendent.
"It doesn't really make sense for us to just give up half of Tim's job," Vaughan said. "That's essentially saying that we didn't need a full-time person."
"I don't understand why the details haven't been presented as to how those mechanics would work," committee member Neal Maxymillian said. "I love the idea of sharing with Lee, but it seem like we keep getting backed into just the superintendent and not talking about the other things. We're very much exposing ourselves to losing Tim altogether if we do this."
"What is happening here, for lack of a better term, is an experiment to see if for one year, having one superintendent to serve two school districts is something that's going to work," Superintendent Lee responded. "At the end of that one year, if it doesn't, try something else. If it does, but only with additional staff hired, that's something that you know and can move forward with that information."
Vaughan commented that "I like the fact that we're speaking from the strength of having our person be the person" if a longer-term joint arrangement emerges, given that "there's a lot of leadership Tim has that's useful for our district but also with another district."
Sorrentino described a failure to pursue a joint superintendency as "a missed opportunity, and if we're going to take our ball and not play with anybody, we're going to be on the outside looking in and it's going to be too late. If Tim is willing to try it, he would be the guy I'd want to do it with."
In their own words ...
"I don't know enough about what the position is going to be, what the responsibilities will be in a shared superintendency, how I'm going to balance my time, what the expectations would be of that school committee and this school committee. I don't know enough about that yet to say that it's something I would want to do. But I am willing to consider that to participate in this experiment is in the best interest of our school district."
— Lenox School Superintendent Timothy Lee
"My understanding of the townspeople is that they did not want to regionalize. Shared services, I could fill the room if need be, to bring it to a vote. I think the townspeople are ready, they don't want to regionalize, they want their own identity, as Lee wants the same."
— School Committee member Francie Sorrentino
"I think the timing isn't perfect but sometimes you have to seize the moment. I don't believe there's a savings at the district level, not in our district, I think we're pretty lean. The opportunity is in front of us, to say no has some real implications. I think saying yes, as a pilot, doesn't hurt us that much. After a year, Tim can decide how this is working. My personal view is that it's inevitable, the population is going to continue to decline, so some of these schools are going to have to shrink and combine, and I'd rather be at the forefront than at the tail end or on the outside looking in."
— School Committee member Michael Moran
"I'm wrestling with the fact that I think it's a good idea, but as a school committee member whose obligation is to spend our money wisely and do things that are the best for education of Lenox students, I haven't seen anyone make the argument yet as how this does either of those things."
— School Committee member Neal Maxymillian
"I recognize that probably for our students and faculty, the best thing is for Tim to be with us full-time, On the other hand, it's important that we be seen as willing to be a player. It's an important political statement on our part to be involved with our neighboring school districts, to at least say we're willing to talk."
— School Committee Chairman Robert Vaughan