DARBY - At a time when Ravalli County unemployment remains high, two local school districts are looking to fill top administrative posts.
With an eye toward eliminating one of its two principal positions and combining it with the superintendent's job, the Darby School Board will meet Monday morning (at 8 a.m. in the administration office) to continue a discussion on how to replace Superintendent Tim Bronk, who will leave when his contract expires in June.
Darby trustee Chuck Oliver said one solution the board has been examining is to share a part-time superintendent with another Bitterroot Valley school district. There was particular attention to the idea that Victor, another small district that is currently in the process of hiring a superintendent, might be open to sharing an administrator.
"We discussed the option of sharing a superintendent, so now we're trying find out who's out there and what their interest might be in that kind of arrangement," Oliver said. "If there's no interest, we wouldn't pursue it."
At a meeting last week, board members asked Bronk to contact Victor officials to assess any interest in the idea. Bronk said Victor Superintendent Orville Getz was generally positive in response, but said the Victor board is already well into the process of hiring his replacement.
"It's kind of hard to just stop right in the middle of something, to stop the process and change direction," Bronk said. "That's a tough thing to do."
Victor board member Marci Smith, who is serving on the district's superintendent hiring committee, agreed, saying she didn't think the idea would work at this point.
"I know that was thrown out on the table," Smith said. "But we're not pursuing anything with that. I don't want to start any rumors here. That hasn't been put before the board or put forth in any kind of public discussion."
Smith said Victor is already assessing about 15 candidates who applied for Getz's position, which she said combines full-time superintendent duties with a part-time role as elementary principal.
Bronk said the Darby board, acting on his recommendation, has been looking very seriously at the idea of combining the superintendent position with that of a principal's position.
And if the possibility was out there to share that superintendent with another district, the arrangement might be mutually beneficial, Bronk said.
There had been some question on the timing of making that move, but Bronk said Montana statute would give the district until Feb. 1, 2012 to finalize an inter-district agreement to share a superintendent. Of course, that agreement would have to be ratified by both school boards.
"I think that idea has some potential in this valley because schools are so close," Bronk said. "I don't know what that would look like at this point, it would take some work."
The key reason the move toward a part-time superintendent - and therefore a sharing agreement - might work for Darby is the looming staff reductions necessitated by the district's budgetary crunch, said Dixie Stark, Darby's school board chair.
"We know that we're going to be losing a bunch of staff by attrition or layoffs before next year," Stark said.
Stark added that, with a reduction in force of five or six certified teachers, the school would be very close to the state's 30 full-time teacher cut-off point for allowing the use of a part-time superintendent.
"We would be very close," Stark said.
Bronk said budgetary savings would also be the reason to do an administrative sharing arrangement with Victor.
As it is, the two districts already team up to increase their combined purchasing power when they buy fuel, he added.
"It's called an inter-local agreement," Bronk said. "And we already have that with Victor."
If not for the timing, Bronk said he thought Darby and Victor might have had a very interesting discussion about matching up the administrative needs of their two districts.
"The law would allow us to do it - I just don't know if all the other hurdles could be cleared at this point," Bronk said. "It's really too bad because it would be a very interesting conversation between our two communities and to see whether there could be some money to be saved there. But I really think it's probably too late in the game now."
Reporter Sepp Jannotta can be reached at 363-3300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.