After a presentation by Westfield Academy and Central School Interim Superintendent Margaret Sauer, WACS Board of Education President Marie Edwards and WACS board member Steve Cockram titled “Why should WACS consider participating in a regional high school pilot program?,”a resolution was proposed. The resolution read, “Does the board want to consider a resolution to continue to pursue a regional high school option for grades 9-12 with the other three ASSET partner?”
After quite a bit of discussion, the issue appeared to boil down to three things — the word pursue, the number of partnering schools and the lack of more information and numbers.
The presentation showed the school board the numbers regarding Westfield’s declining enrollment, increasing costs due to numerous mandates, fixed costs and contractual obligations and decreasing state aid. While the student enrollment has decreased by 35 percent from 1995 to 2011 to 742 students, — the number of teachers have dropped from 102 to 77 in that same period — the budget has not been able to shrink by the same percentage since, as Sauer pointed out, the board has control of less than 10 percent of the budget. Additionally, state aid has decreased to 31 percent of budget.
“So guess who’s paying for the rest?” Sauer said. “The property tax payers. And they’re not happy about that. I don’t blame them. I am too.
“We must do more with significantly less,” Sauer said. “You can see this dilemma.”
With this decrease in state aid, especially the unexpected loss of railroad funding recently, the district is at risk for a running a deficit in 2011-12 and since the tax cap legislation is now law, WACS will only be able to raise its revenue by around $105,000 even though it is looking at a needed increase of around $556,000.
The presentation stated that, in combination with decreased revenues, the district will have a budget gap of $713,985 next school year unless student programs and up to 11 teaching positions are eliminated in addition to student programs and courses. Additionally, according to business manager Al Holbrook, Westfield will run out of money in 2014-15.
“Basically every single school district around us has the same issue,” Cockram said. “The funding cliff … all the local schools are on the cliff.”
In order to not fall off this cliff, Westfield has attempted to merge four times, none of which were successful. The concept of a regional high school would allow for more offerings both academically with higher numbers of electives or advanced classes and in the extracurricular arena for both sports and clubs
“It’s not that we haven’t tried some other means,” Edwards said. “(A regional high school) really hits the programming where it’s needed.”
In regards to lengthy bus rides, Cockram said students from Ripley or Brocton would actually have a shorter drive to Chautauqua Lake High School, the proposed site of a regional high school, than some of the Chautauqua Lake district students currently do. However a regional high school cannot become a reality without the passage of legislation. The New York State Senate unanimously approved such a bill, but it has not yet been brought to the floor of the New York State Assembly.
“The next step is to really flush out some of the details as to how this shared high school would actually work,” Cockram said.
The big hope is that once the bill passes completely, Westfield can participate in the first pilot regional high school. However, not all of the WACS board members were sure this is the direction they want to go.
“If we could be the first one in the state to do this, I would think there would be many things coming from the state to us,” board member Francine Brown said.
“I’d like to have a lot more information,” Mark Winslow said. “All I’ve heard is ‘We’re committed to this and nothing else.’ That bothers me. … I don’t have enough data to believe that this is the only and the best way.
“Why not tuition the kids?” Winslow suggested. “We don’t need legislation to do that.”
Sauer agreed there was not enough data, but that part of moving forward with regional high school talks is to do a study which would offer that data. However, in order to do the study, each of the four school districts is being asked to chip in $7,500.
“I’m not convinced completely that this is the right way to go either Mark,” Sauer said, adding that any decision has to benefit both the students and the taxpayers.
“This has the potential to increase our educational offerings,” Edwards said of the regional high school plan.
“I just hate to get pigeon holed into this single thing,” Winslow said.
“I’m like Mark,” board member Timothy Smith said. “I think it’s gonna be a benefit obviously to our kids, but I need to know what the benefit is to the taxpayers. I don’t see any benefit right now to taxpayers cause nobody’s showed me any figures.”
“I don’t want Westfield to be left in the dust,” Brown said. “If we could be the first one, I really think it’s gonna be to our advantage.”
“I’m not against the regional thing,” board member Steven Reynolds said. “I’m not happy with including Mayville in this because Mayville is not the same of Westfield, Ripley and Brocton.”
When an initial vote was taken, Joy Bodenmiller, Brown, Cockram and Edwards voted yay while Reynolds, Smith and Winslow voted nay. A resolution needs five votes to pass. Board members Jeanne Habig and Tony Pisicoli were absent from the meeting.
However, after rewording the resolution to read “The board will continue to discuss a regional high school option for grades 9-12 with the other three ASSET partners?” the vote was unanimously in favor.
As far as whether or not the district is willing to commit money toward the study, the board will be informed if it has the money to commit or not at the next meeting.
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Photo by Jenna Loughlin
Westfield Academy and Central School Interim Superintendent Margaret Sauer and WACS school board members Marie Edwards, Joy Bodenmiller, Francine Brown, Timothy Smith and Steven Reynolds debated the regional high school option on Monday, Sept. 12 at the board’s last meeting.