A unique arrangement, called the Rittman-Orrville Compact, allows both schools and communities to maintain their identities and traditions, yet work together to save money and improve the education of their children.
Much of the $270,000 in savings realized in the first year of the agreement was used to increase services to students.
''In these economic times,'' said Rittman EV Board of Education Vice President Douglas Stuart, ''if you can find a way that works to save money, you are way ahead of the game. While $270,000 doesn't seem like a whole lot of money, multiply that in a five-year forecast. It adds up.''
With part of that savings, Rittman was able to hire two new elementary teachers to reduce teacher-student ratios.
''That was reinvesting the dividend we just made,'' Stuart said.
Originally created to allow the two boards of education to share a superintendent and treasurer, the compact has expanded to include an Education Management Information System coordinator, and a special education supervisor, superintendent's secretary, French teacher and bus mechanic.
As James ''Jon'' Ritchie, the two districts' joint superintendent, said, ''The main goals are to improve opportunities for kids, increase our ability to attract and retain quality staff members by sharing personnel and to provide taxpayer relief.
''By spending less money on administrative costs, we can direct some of those dollars to increase opportunities for students.''
For example, each district may not have enough students to host a separate unit for multiple-handicapped (MH) and developmentally handicapped students (DH). By placing the MH unit in Rittman and the DH unit in Orrville, those children receive a better education.
The districts found savings in other ways: bulk purchasing of paper, copiers and office supplies, and joint training programs for staff.
''We try to do things like that that make sense,'' Ritchie said. ''We try to share equipment rather than going out and buying it. We loan the other school district a school bus until they can get theirs fixed.''
Joint Treasurer Mark Dickerhoof has organized his office by tasks.
''The Rittman office does the payroll for both districts while the Orrville staff does the accounts payable,'' Dickerhoof said. ''Everything is separated into each district's accounts.
Technology and close proximity help make this arrangement work.
''People calling or writing e-mails to me or Mark really don't know if we are sitting in Rittman or Orrville,'' Ritchie said. ''We try to return the calls and answer e-mails promptly.''
The two district offices are about 10 miles apart, although to go from one to the other, you must drive through slivers of North Central Local (Wayne) and Green Local (Wayne) school districts. Ritchie and Dickerhoof have separate employment contracts with each board.
Any of the shared employees might start one day in Rittman and end up in Orrville, or vise versa. They don't keep track of who is in which district, because the arrangement works.
Ritchie's philosophy is that you go where you are needed: ''Mark and I don't have Rittman or Orrville days.''
The shared services are charged according to the October student count (average daily membership, or ADM).
According to long-time Orrville board member Dr. Greg Roadruck, his district has entertained the idea of a shared administrator for some time. The board had approached several districts about sharing a treasurer, but the other boards were not interested.
''Your most expensive employees are your superintendent and treasurer; why not reduce those costs by sharing them with another district?'' Roadruck said. ''If you have two boards wise enough to understand, and staff willing to work a bit harder, it will work.''
When Ritchie heard that long-time Rittman superintendent Orville ''Butch'' Ullman was going to retire, he called to seek a meeting with Ullman to float the idea.
''I wanted to make sure it was something the leadership up there was comfortable with,'' Ritchie said. ''He liked the idea.''
With his own board's support Ritchie made a proposal to the Rittman board. One selling point was that he and Dickerhoof would take on the additional responsibilities without a raise.
''I was very apprehensive at first,'' said Stuart, who is now a staunch supporter of the compact, ''because it had never been done before.''
It took nine months to put the compact together. Ritchie said that he and Dickerhoof met with the classified and certified unions in both districts to make sure they were on board. The two met with local political leaders, as well as their state senator and state representative.
The compact itself is a legal agreement between the two school districts. It allows either board, the superintendent and the treasurer to end their relationship and return to the traditional management model if the novel arrangement is not working. The compact also requires the boards to meet annually in a joint public session to review the compact and receive public input.
Stuart said the arrangement is growing and evolving. He feels it works because of the people in both communities. The shared staff members have adapted well to the unique system and the boards have a high comfort level with each other.
One of the early lessons learned was to coordinate school calendars better.
''If you think it is important that your superintendent be at every football game, that is not doable here,'' Ritchie said. ''If you think it is important that your superintendent be at every elementary concert, it can't be done here.
''I think we do a really good job of covering tournament events and covering every other football game. No matter how hard you try, there are enough things going on in schools that you can't be everywhere.''
Ritchie and Dickerhoof said they are not trying to convince other people to share administrators and staff. It makes sense for their situation, but it might not be right for other districts.
''We are very fortunate that we have two quality boards that have the best interest of kids at heart and are trying to figure out ways to get more services for kids at reduced costs,'' Ritchie said.
''We were careful to explain to both communities that consolidation was not something we were interested in. The Rittman Indians are still the Rittman Indians and the Orrville Red Riders are still the Orrville Red Riders.
Both schools have football teams, drama clubs, their own principals, separate budgets and their own test scores.''
Stuart said he is comfortable with the compact and it serves his district well.
''I don't feel I am sharing my superintendent and treasurer with anybody.''
Ebright is the Ohio School Boards Association Journal editor. The above article is reprinted from the OSBA Journal September issue.