GLADSTONE - The Gladstone and Rapid River school districts received some national publicity this month for their work consolidating services between the two districts. The two districts were featured in "School Administrator" magazine alongside other districts in the nation who have worked to consolidate services.
"The unique relationship that we have with Gladstone and Rapid River schools was something they wanted to highlight as a means to achieving the financial benefits of consolidation while maintaining the identity and individual strengths of each district," said Jay Kulbertis, who serves as the superintendent for both districts.
"School Administrator" is a publication of the American Association of School Administrators and is distributed to every public school superintendent in the United States who is an AASA member and to other district level staff.
The story of how the Gladstone and Rapid River school districts became featured in the article titled "The Emotions of Consolidation" is a few years in the making. In 2011 the Advanced Leadership Initiative at Harvard University focused on educational innovation and technology. As part of the initiative a think-tank was formed and a forum was created for discussion, brainstorming, strategizing, and relationship building among education professionals.
"Since these issues are critical areas of concern for me, I actively participated in the process, and made a number of contacts as a result," said Kulbertis.
One of the contacts that Kulbertis made was Jay Goldman, editor of "School Administrator." The two were frequently in contact about district issues and the role of school superintendents.
"At some point, the topic switched to school district consolidation, and we had many on-going discussions with multiple participants around the country," said Kulbertis.
Kulbertis had been the superintendent of Gladstone Area Schools for some time before becoming the joint superintendent of the Gladstone and Rapid River districts in August of 2012. He spreads his time between both districts, reports to two school boards, and also reports to a joint superintendency committee made of members from both boards.
Recently the two districts have further consolidated by moving the business offices for both schools into the Rapid River school building and sharing administrative staff that work in the office.
"The collaboration has been a work in progress, where we went in knowing there would be a certain amount of added work along with associated costs savings. As we've moved forward, there have been a number of added efficiencies that have enabled both districts to achieve greater cost savings," said Kulbertis.
Other districts featured in the article have had varying levels of success with the consolidation process. Some chose full mergers, others chose partial mergers similar to the Gladstone and Rapid River partnership, some were forced to consolidate by state governments, and others opted not to consolidate.
"(The) article did a great job of detailing the harsh emotional realities that are so often faced by communities considering school consolidations," said Kulbertis.