WESTFIELD - There are still more questions than answers regarding the regional high school option.
That was the opinion of multiple members of the Westfield Academy and Central School Board of Education members after they attended a Chautauqua Lake Central School Board workshop meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 11 where Roy McMaster, municipal financial adviser and vice president of Capital Markets Advisors LLC, presented enrollment, staffing, financial factors and incentive possibilities in creating a regional high school.
At the Westfield board's meeting on Monday, Jan. 23, Board President Marie Edwards clarified that McMaster has only studied a very small portion of the overall project so far, just instructional and basic information.
Photo by Jenna Loughlin
The Westfield Academy and Central School Board of Education continued to discuss the possibility of a regional high school at its meeting on Monday, Jan. 30. Pictured, left to right, are: board member Joy Bodenmiller; board member Jeffrey Greabell; board member Mark Winslow; interim superintendent Margaret Sauer; board president Marie Edwards; and board vice president Tony Pisicoli.
"We haven't gone really in depth in it yet," Edwards said.
As a discussion item, Edwards asked the board what it sees as advantages or disadvantages based on the information it now has.
Board member Francine Brown said she came away with more questions, but that she is not sure what they are.
"Everything is up in the air," she said. "We can't really do anything until we know what the state's gonna do and when they're gonna do it."
Brown said she also came away with a feeling of distrust in what she was hearing from the people who presented the information at the workshop meeting.
"Were they telling us what we want to hear?" Brown said.
Edwards said there is no way around the ability of a regional high school to offer more programming for students, and Brown agreed.
The board's newest member, Jeffrey Greabell, also said he came away a lot more questions than he went in with.
"There are a lot of questions that have not been answered yet that I think need to be answered before any intelligent even discussion can take place, let alone decision," he said. "I'm just not comfortable yet with taking a position one way or another."
Edwards said she does not think there is enough information currently for anyone one the board to take a position yet because a lot depends on what decisions the state makes versus what decisions are left up to those creating the regional high school. She asked that board members at least remain open minded to the option as the facts come in.
Board member Steve Cockram said the ASSET team originally started off with "what ifs," but ultimately the state law is going to dictate what the real scenario is.
"I think the bigger question is, this is one option, but we need to look at what our other options are should this not be what we choose to do or if this isn't what we're able to do," Board Vice President Tony Pisicoli said. "I think it's better to start to look at those things now than wait until after the fact."
Cockram pointed out that, for example, if consolidation with a neighboring district is a direction Westfield chooses to take, it would not be a reality until three years in the future and by that time, Westfield's budget projection is pretty grim.
Interim Superintendent Margaret Sauer brought up the fact that the legislation, which was hoped to have been passed by Feb. 15, is still waiting for New York Assembly approval and most likely will not be in place in time for a regional high school to be up and running this September as initially anticipated. This means Westfield will need to come up with a short-term plan for the 2012-13 school year as well as a long-term plan, she said.
"If this is not going to come to pass for another year, I think we need to look at some other things while we're playing this game," Greabell said. "There may be some other things that are going to be more beneficial to Westfield I don't know what those are, but they may be there and I think we need to investigate them at the same time that this is going on."
Board member Mark Winslow had quite a few issues with the presentation, both with the numbers that were given and with the logistics of the plan. One example he gave was the student to teacher ratio, which the WACS board would have no control over or input in, was not as low as it currently is in Westfield. Additionally, how teachers will be transferred looks like a "nightmare" to him. He also did not like hearing that the incentive aid would be used to pay for staff.
"That's not being efficient with tax dollars," Winslow said.
He also questioned if 111 electives, with maybe only six students in them, was best and if there is an advantage to creating a regional high school with four schools as opposed to just two or three or 15.
"As far as I know, the scenario has never been looked at as to what is the best group of schools to initiate this," Winslow said. "Just because four schools got together does not mean it's the best for us."
Edwards pointed out one thing mentioned at the workshop meeting was to stand behind the legislation in general in order to allow for a regional high school to even be an option.
"It's not about a decision," Edwards said. "Should we be able to do this is really where we are and what is it gonna look like."
Winslow also pointed out the legislation is only for a high school and suggested pushing the legislation for kindergarten through 12th grade if districts want to combine without putting it to a public vote.
"It's not close to a solve-all by any means whatsoever," he said. "I'm not bashing it by any means, but I am a little disappointed that we sat on it this long without trying to look at other options."
Sauer said the situation is similar to the chicken and the egg scenario because the legislature asked for a study to show a regional high school would save money and the schools asked the legislation needs to be passed so the schools can do a study to see how much money can be saved.
Cockram said Westfield appears to be more financially efficient in educating its students than the other three schools when looking at the amount of money spent per student. This means there is not as much savings for Westfield as there is for the other districts involved.
Board member Tim Smith asked Sauer if the Strategic Planning Committee has talked about the possibility of creating a regional high school with just one other school. Sauer said it has talked about other options.
"Whatever we do, we have got to see taxpayer money saved," Smith said. "I don't see how we can consolidate and not save money I can't go any other way."
Sauer said her major concern is getting students to meet mandates, graduate and be able to get jobs.
"That's really what I'm concerned about is the kids," Sauer said.
Brown said, in a perfect world, she would like to see Westfield as the host school with Brocton and Ripley.
"This is our school," Brown said.
"I think emotion is a really tough part of it," Edwards said. "They have a wonderful facility over there (at Chautauqua Lake)."
"And have one here," Brown said.
"And we still would," Edwards said.
"No matter how you slice it, there would still be four district," Smith said.