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Save money, share superintendents

In Iowa, the state provides financial incentives to districts that share administrative personnel
JUGGLING ACT—Mike Peterson, left, and Randy Collins, right, each lead more than one school district in Iowa.
JUGGLING ACT—Mike Peterson, left, and Randy Collins, right, each lead more than one school district in Iowa.

Sharing superintendents is becoming smart business in Iowa. In 2007, the state introduced a program that provides financial incentives to districts that share administrative personnel. The popular program has expanded from 16 shared superintendents in its first year to 52 in 2016-17, or 19 percent of the state’s full-time superintendents, according to state Department of Education data.

The districts are mainly rural, serving an average of 500 students. The main benefit to sharing superintendents is financial. The average salary for a full-time superintendent in Iowa is $147,825.

When districts share a superintendent, they split that cost, plus they each receive about $53,000 in state incentive money.

Steps to start sharing superintendents

Talk to other district leaders who are already sharing superintendents to understand the benefits, challenges and logistics.

Contact the state education agency for guidance in how to set it up.

Identify a superintendent suitable for sharing, such as somebody who is outgoing and will maintain visibility in both districts.

Discuss what each board wants from the relationship and negotiate an agreement, while being flexible and willing to compromise.

Formalize the sharing agreement with the state’s ed department. This process varies from state to state. In Iowa, it involves checking a couple of boxes on state reports.

Mike Peterson is superintendent of Wapello Community School District and Morning Sun CSD. He says having one person advocating for multiple districts can encourage state legislators to notice problems, such as school funding.

“Since I can show the effect of school funding levels in two districts and not just one, legislators can get a broader picture of a policy’s effects.”

The trend of sharing superintendents is growing, particularly among small districts in the Midwest, says AASA.

Robert Decker, a retired professor of educational leadership from the University of Northern Iowa, says that Iowa has been a leader in shared superintendency, but South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Nebraska and Kansas have also used it. Decker adds that principals are key.

“If the building principals are good at what they do then the superintendent reaps the benefit and eliminates some of the challenges,” he says. “What the shared superintendency has boiled down to is a team approach of running the schools.”

Randy Collins is superintendent of Akron-Westfield, Lawton-Bronson and Whiting Community School Districts. It’s 147 miles between the districts, and Collins says he can easily visit all three in the same day. Wherever he is, Collins strives to have quality face-to-face discussions with staff. He also attends sporting events, especially when both districts are playing. “I cheer good play,” he adds.


Leila Meyer is a freelance writer in British Columbia, Canada.