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Time to learn from past consolidations

May 23, 2012
Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

In 1938, 31 school districts from the towns of Arkwright, Charlotte, Cherry Creek, Ellery, Ellington, Gerry, Pomfret and Stockton became the Cassadaga Valley Central School. It was a move with the future in mind, which has led to the district getting ready to celebrate its 75th year in September.

How times have changed.

Even though we have tried - and continue to try - to consolidate just two districts, something, maybe pride, identity or stubbornness, always seems to stand in the way. The results of failed merger attempts have cost residents and students dearly - in terms of high taxes, fewer educational programs and extracurricular activities.

This year, as seems to be the case every May in school budget votes, residents were asked to approve a "bare bones" budget, which meets the tax cap, but cuts deep into programming.

Rarely do residents reject these plans.

But things have to change moving forward. Already miniscule districts are running out of cash reserves and becoming bankrupt.

Just how dire is the situation? Shrinking districts, such as Westfield and Forestville, have struck deals in the past year with teachers that include pay freezes. This is almost taboo in the education sector, but in doing so, those teachers are part of a solution that preserves some positions and programs.

However, the problem of "bare bones" school budgets is not going away. The bandage box has emptied. The money to run these districts is not far behind.

Those who complain that school mergers still lead to higher taxes are not incorrect. However, they are wrong to dismiss the lessened burden of taxes the consolidation brings.

Recently, the Empire Center for New York State Public Policy released its latest findings on the highest tax burdens. Those municipalities with the lowest burdens in the county were in the towns of Chautauqua, Ellery, Ellington and Westfield. Their school district: Chautauqua Lake.

So while taxes may have increased in these townships, the decision to merge the Chautauqua and Mayville schools has eased the burden paid by district residents over the last 17 years.



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