VINCENT - Three months into sharing a treasurer with the Fort Frye Local school district, the Warren Local Board of Education voted unanimously Monday to share its superintendent as well.
But before Tom Gibbs can take the reins at Fort Frye, that district's board must approve the agreement. That could come as early as Wednesday, when Fort Frye has scheduled a 5 p.m. meeting at Lowell Elementary School to "meet in executive session to discuss the superintendent and treasurer's positions and to conduct business related to personnel," according to a notice issued Monday.
Under the amended contract approved by Warren's board, Gibbs' annual salary there would become $75,000. Fort Frye's share won't be known until after that board makes its decision, but Gibbs, who currently makes $109,500 a year plus benefits, said the arrangement is expected to save each district about $50,000 a year.
That savings is apparently part of what made the arrangement attractive to both districts.
"We're running out of areas where we can reduce spending," said Gibbs, who recently recommended not filling three teaching positions at Warren for the coming school year. "We need to start looking at every efficiency."
Gibbs said this is a way to save money with no direct negative impact "at least on the surface," to activity in classrooms.
Fort Frye Local Board of Education special meeting - 5 p.m. Wednesday, Lowell Elementary School.
Fort Frye regular meeting - 6 p.m. Thursday, May 17, Beverly-Center Elementary School.
Warren Local Board of Education regular meeting - 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 24, administration office in Vincent.
As with the agreement under which Melcie Wells is serving as both districts' treasurer, the shared superintendent post would be a one-year trial.
"None of us are positive that this is going to work," Gibbs said. "This is a one-year attempt. We are hopeful we can make it work."
The board approved the amended contract after meeting in executive session for nearly an hour with Fort Frye board President Johnna Zalmanek and board member Charlie Schilling. They declined to comment until after their board meets Wednesday.
Gibbs said the topic of sharing a superintendent was first broached in December, when the boards were discussing the treasurer's position. It was revisited last week after the first choice of district residents and staff to become Fort Frye's next superintendent, Conneaut Area City Schools Superintendent Kent Houston, withdrew his name from consideration.
Wanting to hire someone with experience as a superintendent, the Fort Frye board informed two other finalists they were no longer being considered for the position, but Zalmanek said Friday there were not plans to start a new search.
Warren board President Bob Allen said he had felt from those early discussions the arrangement could work.
"The board asked Mr. Gibbs and Melcie, 'Can you handle this without a drop-off in performance with the Warren Local school district?" he said.
Allen said he's seen no decline in Wells' performance since she went from being the Warren treasurer full-time to serving both districts Feb. 1.
Warren board member John Nichols said the savings for the district and Gibbs' confidence won him over to the idea.
"I had some reservations at first just because (of) the financial situation that both districts are facing; I thought maybe the load would be a bit much for one person," Nichols said.
The Fort Frye district was facing deficits at the end of the current and upcoming fiscal years before the board voted in March to place its more-than-$730,000 Duke Energy tax abatement compensation payment for 2012 in the general fund instead of reserving it for capital improvements. Even with that and some reductions in force approved at the board's April meeting, the district is projected to spend nearly half a million dollars more than it takes in for fiscal year 2012-13.
Meanwhile Warren has struggled with how to address its aging facilities after voters rejected four times a bond issue to construct all new schools in the district, plus a fifth that would have funded the local share of building three new elementary schools and a middle school. In February, the board approved funding cuts of about $1.3 million - including the elimination of high school busing - to generate the money to repair the existing facilities. The board is still considering its next step and a possible ballot issue in the fall.
Among the items the Fort Frye board must decide is how much compensation to provide Warren for Gibbs' benefits, which will still be provided by Warren to maintain continuity. Gibbs said the total rate of compensation is expected to be slightly higher on Warren's end.
It is also not clear when Gibbs would begin his duties at Fort Frye. The Warren board approved it for any time after May 1, but Gibbs noted Fort Frye interim Superintendent Dora Jean Bumgarner remains under contract through July 31.
"She's served their district very well for a long time," Gibbs said. "She needs to be a part of that decision-making."
Bumgarner is paid a daily rate that equates to $89,700, plus mileage.