PRYOR — Superintendent Larry Larmon has two of everything — two phones, two email addresses, two offices.
Two school boards.
“It's kind of like having two wives,” Larmon said.
Osage Public Schools has about 200 students. Spavinaw Public Schools has half that. Together, the school districts have one superintendent: Larmon.
This year, eight school districts have taken advantage of a state Education Department grant that rewards districts that share superintendents. The state will pay up to half of a superintendent salary to a maximum of $50,000 annually for three years. Four grants were awarded to:
Byars and Wayne in McClain County.
Cave Springs and Rocky Mountain in Adair County.
Fanshawe and Wister in Le Flore County.
Osage and Spavinaw in Mayes County.
For the grant recipients, superintendent-sharing saves money. But it's also a way for neighbors to help one another.
“When we started this endeavor, the school of Spavinaw was having some difficulty financially, and the school board at Osage wanted to be able to help,” Larmon said.
The grant is a lifeline not only to schools but to towns, said David Powell, superintendent of Wayne and Byars.
“Byars is so small that they're struggling to stay open,” he said. “It gives another avenue to try to keep them open. It's like a lot of little towns that have died out over the years. They have a history. They have school history and a majority of the Byars residents are Byars graduates. They have a sense of pride in their town and their school. They want their kids going to that school.”
Wayne has about 525 students; Byars has 39.
Small towns have felt the pressure of a weak economy, Powell said, and school districts have lost families looking for work in bigger cities.
“They're afraid they've lost another piece of the community,” Powell said. “I've been very, very cautious about going in. I don't want anybody to think Wayne Schools is trying to poach. It continues to get harder and harder every year for schools like Byars.”
Superintendent Jerry Carpenter spends a few hours each morning at Fanshawe, drives 10 miles east and spends the rest of the day at Wister. He has been superintendent at Wister for 17 years and started his sharing duties this year.
But Carpenter has a heart for Fanshawe. His parents graduated from Fanshawe before the district lost its high school in the 1960s because of dwindling enrollment.
The population has continued to decline.
“Their budget was very tight — to the point of having to consider issues of annexation and so forth,” Carpenter said.
“Obviously, they wanted to keep a school district if they could.”
Sharing a superintendent is a good step, he said. Digging up cost savings has been key. But now, he said, it's time to get back to business.
“Our No. 1 goal has got to be what we're doing academically,” he said. “Once we clear the financial hurdles in making this work, we've got to roll up our sleeves and go to work on the academic side.”
For superintendents to share districts successfully, they have to have good staff members in each location, said Terry Mays, superintendent of Cave Springs and Rocky Mountain. Mays splits his time between the districts, which have about 200 students each.
Superintendents need the support of both communities, and Mays said he's grateful that he does.
“It's just amazing how good people are,” he said. “It's good. I enjoy the kids, and I tell you what: we're blessed in this part of the country with some outstanding kids and parents.