LEE — The Lee Public Schools will soon test the uncharted waters of sharing a superintendent with another K-12 school district.
Within two weeks, the Lee-Tyringham Union 29 committee charged with hiring the Lee K-12 district's top educator will hold initial interviews with superintendents of two neighboring school systems.
Peter Dillon of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District, representing Great Barrington, Stockbridge and West Stockbridge, and the day-to-day boss in Lenox, Timothy Lee, were the only candidates to answer the call from the union committee for a shared superintendent.
Following the first round of behind-closed-doors questioning from the six-member panel — three each from the separate Lee and Tyringham school boards — public interviews will likely be conducted in late January or early February, according to Lee School Committee Chairwoman Andrea Wadsworth.
"If we find one or both are a fit for us, then we'll have the second interviews," she said. "There is no downside to this as they are two great candidates."
Since July 2013, Lee schools have operated under interim Superintendent Al Skrocki, who came out of a brief retirement to succeed Jason "Jake" McCandless. McCandless when he left Lee to take the reins of the Pittsfield Public Schools.
Union 29 held off on searching for a permanent superintendent in order to do a self-assessment regarding the future administrative, financial and educational direction of the district. Last fall, the union committee finally decided to advertise for a shared superintendent, an administrative move only two other Massachusetts K-12 school districts have tried, according to Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.
"In terms of established K through 12 districts, this is a relatively new concept and it's not that dramatic of a structure," he said.
In 2009, North Middlesex and Quabbin regional school districts agreed to share a superintendent who earned a shade under $200,000 a year, with the cost shared by the two school systems. The three-year arrangement ended in 2012 when the superintendent retired and the districts returned to each having their own schools chief.
As the Lee-Tyringham committee prepares to interview the two candidates, the logistics of a shared superintendent need to be worked out, such as time he spends in each district, needed for the additional administrative help for the superintendent and where the school boss is based.
Dillon and Lee applied for the Lee Public Schools job with the blessing and cautious optimism of their respective school boards.
"We didn't want to give the impression of being isolationists," said Lenox School Committee Chairman Robert Vaughn. "I think people in Lenox have been more than amenable to shared services."
Lenox and Lee school and municipal officials have said their towns' taxpayers are clamoring for more financially efficient public education given student enrollment in both communities has steadily decline as school budgets have increased for more than a decade.
Berkshire Hills School Committee Chairman Steve Bannon believes sharing Dillon with Lee could be a win-win for both school systems.
"Berkshire Hills having a closer relationship with Lee and it would be a much shorter learning curve for Peter as he's been doing [the job] for us the past seven years," Bannon said.
While a rarity, sharing a superintendent is one of many options school districts across the state have explored in these tight fiscal times, according to Tom Scoot, head of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.
"You have declining resources and declining enrollment and you're not going to see relief from Beacon Hill," he said.