Synergistic District Management
David Volkman, 61, HAS SCALED the career ladder from classroom teacher to superintendent of the Susquehanna (Pa.) Township School District. And Matthew Malinowski, 28, is at Volkman’s side as the assistant superintendent of business services. Although generations apart, these administrators have forged a strong alliance in their suburban district, located just outside Harrisburg.
A Symbiotic Relationship
“It’s incredibly important that superintendents have a good working relationship with their business manager, because he or she is probably the most important person they’re going to interact with on a daily basis,” Volkman says.
The two men study district business plans together so Volkman understands the financial side when he considers programs to implement. And Malinowski regularly visits schools and greets students so he can put faces to the numbers he crunches and cuts. “By reducing finances, improving revenues, and tightening expenses, that enables Mr. Volkman to move forward with several critical initiatives to increase programmatic opportunities for our students,” says Malinowski.
Together the two men have streamlined the district’s operations to make smart use of limited resources. For example, instead of contracting out for a staffing analysis, Malinowski did it. And in lieu of hiring a manager for the district’s several construction projects, Volkman and Malinowski supervise them along with the district’s maintenance director. “Even though we’ve had budget constraints, programs haven’t suffered, and I think that’s because Mr. Volkman and Mr. Malinowski make smart decisions and hold themselves accountable,” says Linda Geesaman, principal of the district’s primary school.
District officials boast that they have one of the lowest per-pupil costs in the state. Yet they continue to make gains in reading and math on standardized tests and graduate nearly all of their students.
They have also shifted priorities and maintained low overhead. For example, they operate out of a small district office, choosing instead to put money into programs. And when it comes to finances, they make creative, cost-effective decisions. With their decision to negotiate contracts and benefits with district unions, they have cut the need for a human resources director. “We look at every way we can to save money without it having a negative impact to what we’re doing for students,” Malinowski says.
Streamlining the System
Upon joining the district in 2005, Malinowski automated tax systems, reduced health benefit costs (without cutting back on employees’ benefits) by 10 percent, and negotiated, with Volkman, energy improvements that will save the district 30 percent over the next 10 years.
And student numbers have risen from 1,950 students in 1993 to nearly 3,200 students, with a significant rise in minority students and English Language Learners, as well as a 21 percent jump in students who receive free and reduced-price lunch.
Volkman has worked with Malinowski to ensure the district provides more social service agencies for students and families, create extended-day kindergarten, and use math and reading coaches.
Lucille Renwick is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.