Greenport, Southold districts planning to share superintendent

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11/15/2013 6:35 PM |
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Southold School District Superintendent David Gamberg during a recent public meeting on Common Core.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Southold School District Superintendent David Gamberg during a recent public meeting on Common Core.

When you ask Greenport and Southold school officials how their recently announced shared-superintendent plan came about, most will say it evolved organically.

They’ll tell you it’s because Green-port Superintendent Michael Comanda and his Southold counterpart, David Gamberg, have worked well together over the years, pooling resources and developing multiple shared-service agreements, from AP courses to theatrical performances.

Come this summer, when Mr. Comanda retires after working in Greenport for nearly a dozen years, Mr. Gamberg is expected to take his place. But he won’t be working just for Greenport; he’ll serve as the head of both school districts — a move state officials are calling a first for Long Island K-12 school districts.

Mr. Comanda, 54, who will continue as a part-time superintendent in the New Suffolk elementary school district, said he believes the Gamberg move is a win-win for taxpayers and Green-port families.

“After having a positive experience in Greenport and New Suffolk, and knowing I was preparing to retire, I approached David on the idea of the shared superintendent,” Mr. Comanda said.

Mr. Gamberg, 51, said he remembers sitting in his offi ce with Mr. Comanda, when his friend fl oated the idea.

“I remember hearing that and asking myself in my head, ‘Are you serious?’ ” Mr. Gamberg recalled. “That I remember. I couldn’t tell you the day. I couldn’t tell you the month, but I remember there was that initial, ‘I’m going to put something out there. What do you think?’ ”

On Friday, the Greenport and Southold school boards announced in a joint press release that they’ve reached an agreement and that Mr. Gamberg will serve both districts under a two-year contract beginning July 2014.

Under the deal, the release reads, the districts would share Mr. Gamberg’s salary equally and he will “have dual reporting lines to both boards.”

Other details, including salary, are still being discussed. Records show the two superintendents currently make $393,000 combined — $200,000 for Mr. Comanda and $193,000 for Mr. Gamberg.

Now that both school boards have agreed to share Southold’s current superintendent, Mr. Gamberg said his next step is to work with his private attorney to draft a preliminary contract. He said he’s also working with legal counsel for the statewide superintendents association to seek guidance from experts who have drafted similar agreements elsewhere in New York State. That preliminary contract will then go to both school boards and their respective counsel for review and discussion.

Another component of the two-year deal Mr. Gamberg said he’s working out involves deciding if he’ll remain a Southold employee or enter into an intermunicipal agreement with Greenport, which is how the districts recently handled a joint contract to share a new technology director.

Mr. Gamberg said both decisions are about creating effi ciencies and saving money during changing economic times.

“We want to protect the integrity of each district,” he said. “But at the same time try to realize the reality on the ground.

“In the tax-levy cap environment, this could be something that saves both districts money and, additionally, provides more opportunities for shared programs. I feel honored by the prospect of taking this on … I’ll do my level best for both school communities.”

Mr. Gamberg said he believes his background as an assistant superintendent in the Patchogue-Medford School District will help him adjust to working in two districts, since that larger district has 11 buildings.

Greenport school board member Dan Creedon said he believes appointing Mr. Gamberg to the position will outweigh the “negatives associated with the extra demands” on the superintendent’s time. It’s also a rare opportunity for a small district like Greenport to secure an experienced superintendent, Mr. Creedon said.

“Ordinarily, a superintendent appointment is from the principal or assistant superintendent ranks,” Mr. Creedon said. “Most superintendents either stay put until they retire or move to a larger district. It is unlikely to get someone to leave a larger district with a larger salary to move to a small district at the end of the island.”

Mr. Creedon also stressed that the districts aren’t combining the positions of superintendent and described Mr. Gamberg’s new role as having two separate jobs.

“Both jobs are full-time efforts,” Mr. Creedon said. “We anticipate that his experience, and the fact that he is already in one of the jobs and his familiarity with Greenport from several years of working together, will ease the transition.”

Greenport school board president Heather Wolf said she’s grateful for the Southold school board and Mr. Gamberg’s willingness to work with Greenport on sharing a superintendent.

Since major building construction projects in Greenport have been completed and the district’s teacher and staff contracts are set for the next few years, she’s hopeful Mr. Gamberg won’t feel he’s in over his head during his two-year term.

“We’re leaving the house in a good order,” she said. “It is a dream option for us.”

Fellow school board members Tina Volinski and Lisa Murray also said they are excited to work with Mr. Gamberg and are pleased both boards were able to come to an agreement.

They’ll be seeing more of Mr. Gamberg in Greenport before he takes over because he’s planning to visit in the coming months to become better acquainted with the school.

Mr. Comanda’s mentor, Charles Kozora, who retired as Greenport’s superintendent in 2009, described the recent shared-superintendent agreement as “downright brilliant.”

“It should have been done a long time ago,” he said. “If I had it my way, there would be one superintendent for the North Fork.”

Mr. Kozora said that although he believes it would make sense to combine the area’s superintendent position for all fi ve North Fork districts due to the area’s low student enrollment, which totals nearly 3,000 students, he said he doesn’t believe a district merger will ever take place, because consolation would result in a disparity in the tax rate between communities.

State Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who has been a big proponent of shared service agreements, described Greenport and Southold as being a model to show other districts they can expand quality student programs while saving taxpayer dollars and maintaining a school’s identity.

Over the years, Mr. LaValle has allocated grant funding to both districts to assist with their shared-service efforts. In September, he secured $150,000 to help the schools further their various shared-service plans, most notably a last-minute track construction project now underway in Greenport.

“I think more districts will be looking at ways that they can cooperate,” Mr. LaValle said when asked about the future of such arrangements. “Working together and providing shared services should be a fi rst step and a no-brainer for many schools.”

New Suffolk school board president Tony Dill said he believes Mr. Gamberg will be able to hold a joint superintendent position because both districts have “strong principals in each school.” The momentum of shared programs will continue, too, Mr. Dill said.

“It would be a real tragedy if the advancement, in terms of the joint-agreements made over the past couple of years, were reversed,” he said. “Having the joint program continue is ultimately going to benefi t our students enrolled in Southold School District.”

In addition to handling tuition negotiations with New Suffolk as Southold’s superintendent — an ironic move that means he will still be working with Mr. Comanda

— Mr. Gamberg will now also be responsible for working on Green-port’s secondary contract with Oysterponds. The Oysterponds Elementary School District in Orient currently sends its upper-grade students to Greenport. Those districts are currently fi nalizing a fi ve-year tuition deal, which Ms. Wolf said she believes will be completed before Mr. Gamberg takes over.

Oysterponds school board president Dorothy-Dean Thomas said her board had anticipated discussing with Greenport plans for a superintendent search to replace Mr. Comanda, but the board was then informed at the meeting that Greenport already intended to hire Mr. Gamberg.

Ms. Thomas said Oysterponds offi cials “eagerly await to hear what his plans are for Greenport.”

Southold school board members Judi Fouchet, Scott DeSimone, Scott Latham and John Crean did not return messages seeking comment for this story. Board president Paulette Ofrias said Friday evening that “the school board does not have any comment at this time.” In Friday’s press release, she praised the joint agreement.

“This is yet another clear example of how we can expand upon our ongoing commitment toward increased shared services that support our long-term strategic plan to contain costs,” she said.

Although Mr. Gamberg credits the shared-service deal to the support he’s received from Mr. Comanda, Mr. LaValle and both school boards, he said it was his wife, Maryellen, a fourth-grade teacher at Cutchogue East Elementary School, who gave him the confi – dence to move forward and say yes to the agreement.

“Absent that, I don’t know if we’d be having this conversation,” he said. “I think that her eyes are wide open and she knows the commitment and what I need to bring to the table to make it successful. It will be a heavy investment in time and energy and thought, but she believes I have the ability to do that and do it efficiently.”

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