Districts to share superintendent, avoid merging

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WASHINGTON COUNTY, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- A small eastern Iowa school district is going to try something they've never done before.

Lone Tree will share a superintendent with another school district. For Highland, this is something they're already doing with other management positions and schools. Administrators are stressing that this is not a merger or a move towards consolidation. Mergers involve sharing students and facilities. Operational sharing means sharing jobs to save money between at least two districts. For Lone Tree and Highland, this would mean the state would give them more money.

"You got to start looking out for the future and to maintain our independence," said Mike Jorgensen, the interim superintendent for Highland Community School District.

Superintendent Mike Jorgensen came out of retirement to take this position at Highland schools, but he'll basically just be an advisor. He'll share the position with Lone Tree Superintendent Ken Crawford. Jorgensen said this way, the districts can avoid merging.

"We want to avoid reducing staff and programs as much as possible," said Jorgensen.

Crawford said sharing resources is something that districts across the state are already doing.

"I'm feeling very good about how we've set things up and are ready to go," said Crawford.

Slipping enrollment is one reason the districts want to help each other. Another reason is they could both use $140,000 incentive the state gives to districts who share resources for their operational sharing plan.

"I think that's money that as we bring into our budget is very, very important to have for us to use for projects, for salaries, for all the things we need to do to run a business," said Crawford.

The only catch is they won't see that money until fiscal year 2019. The Highland teacher's union said the plan won't affect how they do their jobs.

"I feel confident in that regard there. Obviously what that will look like in reality, it's hard to say," said Clint Jones, the president of the Highland Education Association.

Highland and Lone Tree both said they're trying this out on a year by year basis for now. They will also share directors of transportation, maintenance, and human resources.

"It's just a little bit of how will this truly work and after a year I think we'll find that this will work perfectly," said Crawford.

Highland board of education is expected to put their stamp of approval on this plan at tonight's meeting. Lone Tree is expected to approve it on Wednesday.