One way rural school districts in Minnesota try to save money is by sharing superintendents, usually with one person becoming the leader of two districts.
But a man in southern Minnesota is getting ready to become the superintendent of three districts, and officials say he probably won't be the last to take on so many districts.
Jerry Reshetar has been the superintendent of the Lyle School District since 1999. The town sits right on the Minnesota-Iowa border and its school has about 230 or so students. The district had already been working on sharing resources with two nearby districts, Glenville-Emmons and Grand Meadow.
But earlier this year, the superintendents in those two towns got new jobs elsewhere. Reshetar will fill both vacancies and keep his Lyle job, making him the superintendent of three school districts with a combined enrollment of around 940.
He'll split his work week among the three towns, which are all within 50 miles of each other.
"I think this is a courageous move on the part of three districts," he said.
Reshetar says Lyle, Glenville and Grand Meadow had already been sharing services and programs, including special education. The new combined superintendent is part of a larger plan that will allow for even more sharing of everything from teachers to textbooks.
"We will have a database that includes equipment and people, and so when you need two periods of math to get covered, for example, you can look across the database of the consortium and probably find someone who can do that," he said.
You might think another way to save this kind of money would be to just merge the three districts into one entity, but Reshetar says that's not necessary and would cause needless pain.
Communities rally around their town's school and those decades old sports rivalries are important. Merging the districts would have removed that. This way, each town still has its own school board, mascot and building.
Combining superintendents is becoming more common in rural Minnesota, but it's usually only one person splitting time between two districts.
The Leroy and Southland districts share a superintendent, so do Greenbush-Middle River and Tri-County, as well as Breckenridge and Evansville.
But there appears to be only one other person in Minnesota who is the leader of three districts: Bruce Houck, who heads the Hendricks, Lynd and R-T-R districts in southwestern Minnesota. (R-T-R stands for Russell-Tyler-Ruthton.)
Houck says it is more stressful than running just one district. He has to worry about three different budgets and three different sets of test scores. And, he says, there are probably times when one community thinks he's spending too much time in another.
The key to pulling it off is having each of those school boards work together, he says.
"As long as the boards are all flexible in your time, knowing that if there's an issue that comes up in one of the three districts," he said. "Right now, I have the flexibility to be able to go and address those issues without anyone getting upset about their time, knowing that that time will be made up in their district."
Back in southern Minnesota, Jerry Reshetar says the three boards who are now his boss have also given him that kind of flexibility, but the lesson might be warranted for others. Both men believe more and more districts will look for one person to lead three districts, not just two.
Charlie Kyte agrees. He lobbies at the state capitol on behalf of superintendents. He says all superintendents are grappling with tighter budgets in the face of stagnant state funding and increased costs.
"So then you start saying, 'How can we be more efficient? How can we reduce some of our overhead costs?' Well, one way is to squeeze down or share administrators," Kyte says.
For Reshetar, he says the model his three districts are using could be replicated elsewhere. One thing he still has to figure out, though, is how he'll navigate the diplomatic mine field this fall, when his schools start meeting on the football field.