Lenox School Committee chairman welcomes halt to shared superintendent efforts
LENOX — The chairman of the School Committee here has welcomed the recent decision by the Lee-Tyringham School Union 29 to suspend efforts to share a superintendent who would be tasked with overseeing both the Lenox and Lee school systems.
Two district superintendents, Timothy Lee of Lenox and Peter Dillon of Berkshire Hills Regional, had been interviewed by the Lee-Tyringham search committee for a potential one-year shared leadership arrangement to test the waters.
But the search committee voted instead to put the potential joint superintendency arrangement on hold as interim Superintendent Al Skrocki has agreed to serve a fourth and final year in charge of the Lee schools.
At last week's meeting in Lenox, School Committee Chairman Robert Vaughan acknowledged that the outcome "was probably a disappointment to some and an opportunity for others."
But he said he was choosing to view the delay as an opportunity.
"In my perspective, it buys us some time to give Tim another year to fully be our superintendent while we think of what the right thing to do is," he said. "We're going to have to make that decision fairly early in the year for budget purposes."
Lee's three-year contract as superintendent expires in June 2017. He was hired initially in mid-2014 as interim head of the district after five years as principal of Morris Elementary School in Lenox, but was given the full title last February.
"If Lee and Lenox are going to be the superintendent narrative of the future — it may or may not be — but if it were, people would ask me, 'What's the benefit of having Tim half-time?' "
Vaughan's response to the hypothetical question: "There's no benefit to having Tim half-time unless we have somebody to backfill the parts of the job he can't do because he'd spend half-time in Lee. This will give us time to explore those kinds of things as well as shared services in other areas."
As possibilities, he listed students taking courses in the adjoining district as well as sharing other personnel. The Lee and Lenox school systems recently began sharing a food services director on a trial basis through the end of this school year.
"Lee wasn't sure what direction they wanted to go," Vaughan said. "So they chose to back off. That gives us an opportunity to rethink the direction we might want to go."
The five-year strategic plan adopted by the Lenox School Committee last year includes a section on joint services, but several committee members have voiced reservations about sharing the district's leader with the Lee schools.
"Let's put the talk of sharing a superintendent aside," said committee member Robert Munch after Vaughan completed his brief statement. "We've been talking about it for two years, we've got a year's respite, let's use that time with our collaborative subcommittee to try to come up with some real grass-roots sharing like we've done with the food services director and other opportunities."
Munch said that in examining the Lenox School Department's preliminary budget for the 2016-17 school year, he made a list of potential shared services for future discussion.
"If we can get ourselves intertwined from the grass roots up," he said, "I think we'll be able to drive some change."
Other committee members have also advocated exploring shared services at lower levels first — "low-hanging fruit," as committee member Neal Maxymillian has put it — instead of at the top.
Superintendent Lee and additional committee members chose not to comment, although Vice Chairwoman Veronica Fenton and member Molly Elliot signaled their agreement with Munch and Vaughan — "silent affirmation," as they put it.
Last week, following the decision to put a joint leader of the two districts on hold, Lee School Committee Chairwoman Andrea Wadsworth said: "We want to be 100 percent sure about this — we can't be wishy-washy. We're glad we stepped outside the box."
Wadsworth described Dillon and Lee as "strong candidates but they come from vastly different districts. Do we want to be one of four communities or share with a district our own size?"
In an e-mail, Dillon told the Eagle: "I agree with their decision to be deliberate and thoughtful and gather community feedback."
"That makes a lot of sense to me as well," Lee said, "and I commend the [Lee-Tyringham] committee for their level of thoughtfulness on these important issues."
The Berkshire Hills and Lee school boards approved a legal memorandum in January laying out guidelines for exploring shared services. The Lee and Lenox school committees had signed a similar agreement last fall.
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