WESTFIELD - There will be no regional high school for the 2012-13 school year.
All four districts which had been discussing the possibility for months - Westfield, Chautauqua Lake, Brocton and Ripley - had mutually agreed that a bill making the regional high school idea legal would have to pass the New York State legislature by Feb. 15, 2012. At the Westfield Academy and Central School Board of Education Meeting on Monday, Feb. 13, Interim Superintendent Margaret Sauer reported to the board that, while the bill had passed the state senate, it still had not passed the state assembly let alone reconciling the two versions.
"Although we certainly appreciate their efforts, it is time for us to move on and look at other options in terms of trying to help our financial situation, our budget gap as we know it," Sauer said.
Photo by Jenna Loughlin
The Board of Education for the Westfield Academy and Central School District discussed the status of the regional high school bill still currently waiting for a vote in the New York State assembly on Monday, Feb. 13. Pictured from left to right are: Board President Marie Edwards; Board Vice President Tony Pisicoli; board member Tim Smith; board member Steven Reynolds; and board member Francine Brown.
Based on an email from New York State Senator 's office, Sauer reported the senator is ready to amend the regional high school bill, though it is not yet clear what those amendments will be. The email also stated that the hope is to coordinate the amendments with the assembly's version of the bill.
"The conclusion to the email is it will not be done in the next two weeks," Sauer said. "If you recall, we kind of had an informal agreement among the school districts that if it wasn't signed and completed by Feb. 15, that we agreed it could not happen for next fall."
As part of the preparations for a possible regional high school, Business Manager Al Holbrook was asked to create a five year financial projection for WACS both with and with out the regional option, which he presented to the board. Using the same information and educated assumptions from a study done by Chautauqua Lake Central School and presented to the public a few weeks ago, Holbrook's projection showed a regional high school giving WACS two more years until it is bankrupt. In addition, any projected deficits in that scenario would have to be cut from a kindergarten through eighth grade district as opposed to a kindergarten through 12th grade district.
"As the numbers dwindle, the options that are remaining still aren't much more palatable than our original five year plan," Holbrook said.
As a comparison, Holbrook also showed the board an annual incentive aid comparison if Westfield were to re-organize with any or all of the other three districts included in the regional high school discussions. In that case, Westfield would receive $1,283,334 in incentive aid as compared to the $451,226 it is estimated to receive in the regional high school scenario, though the aid is one of the components to the bill, which has not yet been determined. In the re-organization scenario, Ripley would receive $845,342 in incentive aid if it was involved, Brocton $1,328,806 and Chautauqua Lake $412,716. Depending on how many of the schools were involved in the re-organization would determine the total aid ranging from $2,128,676 to $3,870,198 for the first five years and decreasing over the next 14 years.
"It's very eye-opening as far as I'm concerned," Sauer said.
During public comment, Don Wood implored the board to consider consolidation with the Brocton and Ripley school districts, starting immediately. He heard the board discuss the possibility at the last meeting, but noted that two weeks have passed and two more weeks will pass by the time the next meeting is held on Monday, Feb. 27.
"I'm concerned we'll get painted into a corner," he said. "When you look at consolidation I think there's advantages to it. I think it's an option."
One of his largest concerns about a regional high school is that, as a parent, he would not be able to elect board members who would make decisions for the school. He also commented that even with the regional high school, there would still be a deficit with a smaller pie to make cuts from.
Board member Francine Brown said during board member commentary that she agreed with Wood and was interested in immediately discussing consolidation with other districts. However, Edwards said the Strategic Planning Committee, which has been meeting for a few months and working on the best options for Westfield going forward, will be presenting at the next board meeting and that it would be a disservice if the board did not hear what it has to say before starting the discussion.
Sauer was appreciative of the work done by Chautauqua Lake to include Westfield in the regional high school discussions and in spending the money for the initial study.
"I do think that we need to thank Chautauqua Lake for taking on the responsibility to do the study, for paying for it, for inviting us to be part of this because it is generous on their part," Sauer said. "At least (a regional high school) might be an option (in the future)."
Board member Jeff Greabell suggested the board contact Chautauqua Lake to let it know WACS appreciated its efforts and Board President Marie Edwards said she thought that would be a nice gesture.
During the discussion items of the meeting, the open meetings law was brought up and Sauer said all items in the board's packets which pertain to discussions or actions during the meeting will now be available online the Thursday before the meeting on the district's website, www.wacs.wnyric.org. Paper copies can also be requested from the district for a fee.
The board discussed the 5000 section of the policy manual and board member Steve Cockram had some questions regarding sections 5110 budget planning and development, 5520 extra classroom activity fund, 5550 maintenance of fiscal effort for title one, 5661 student nutrition and physical activity, new 5231 corporate sponsorships, 5321 cell phone policy, 5410 purchasing, 5730 school bus policy and 5650 energy water conservation and recycling. Most of the questions were issues the policy committee had discussed at length and board member Joy Bodenmiller offered the reasoning behind leaving them as is, however policy 5730 was altered to read bus drivers cannot use cell phones when the bus is in operation.
Kathy Probst, a long time resident and teacher in the district, took the opportunity to ask the board for fair cuts to the budget during the public comment period. Having had two of her own children educated by WACS, she said her kids had wonderful experiences at every level with great program offerings.
"We have excellent programs and teachers at every level in this district," she said. "I am trusting the board will be fair to all and make their decisions based on what is best for all of our students, kindergarten through 12th grade."
During board commentary, Mark Winslow told a story of when his granddaughter left her homework on the bus a few weeks ago. He said the bus driver called her and was willing to meet her halfway to deliver the homework. Winslow said the driver, David Walker, went out of his way and extended his appreciation for going above and beyond. Winslow also said he was using Walker as an example to thank all of those at WACS who go above and beyond. Sauer commented this was possible because WACS has its own bus company rather than a bus service.
In other business:
Stephen Raghunath was unanimously approved as a certified substitute teacher for the remainder of the school year;
Michael Gerdy and Kyle Botsford were unanimously approved as uncertified substitute teacher, effective Feb. 14, for the remainder of the school year;
the Environmental Club was unanimously approved to sell frozen pies from Maplevale Farms from Feb. 14 to Feb. 24 for a fund raiser for a whale watching trip in May;
the Westwinds was unanimously approved to sell pizza coupons with CJ's Pizza from February through April to supplement funds for its trip to Pike's Peak Music Festival in Colorado Springs, Co.; and
the Bible Study Group was approved to sell personalized bracelets before and after school from Feb. 14 to March 8 as a fund raiser for the Global Outreach Well Water project in Africa by a 8-1 vote, Tony Pisicoli dissenting.