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School mergers: The do nothing option

May 15, 2013
Steve Cockram , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

If schools do not do something to gain efficiencies or increase funding, such as merge, tuition, or regional high school, the future is grim. Schools are spending their savings like crazy. New York State has given schools permission - closer to demanded - to use much of these funds to plug current budget holes. But schools don't want to do that. When there is a structural deficit, every school wants to push that end date of reserves as far out as possible.

By law, school budgets must be in balance. Schools have been doing both programming cuts and spending reserves to stay in balance. The decisions are being driven by class size and the NYS list of mandated courses for all public schools. In 2010-13, Brocton and Westfield have cut our kids' courses to the tune of 22 teaching and 10 support positions. This chips away at the structural deficit at the expense of the students' education.

What happens when schools like Westfield or Brocton run out of reserves? Class sizes will probably go up dramatically. Depending on the size of the structural deficit, there will be more programming and subsequent teacher and staff cuts. There are only 77 teachers at Westfield Academy and Central School today, down from 103 in 1995. If non-mandatory classes are all cut, then boards will need to decide which mandatory programs go. Then, a parent might file a lawsuit against the school to force it to provide a service it can't pay for, and life will get really interesting.

Sorry, I'm really an optimistic person, but there is nothing optimistic to me about the "do nothing" scenario. Maybe NYS will find a pot of money and increase funding. This year's final NYS budget found some, although I am skeptical if it is real. Maybe NYS will mandate what districts will merge, similar to hospitals a few years ago. The bottom line is that the students already in school, in separate Brocton and Westfield districts, are the ones that will be paying for our federal retirement benefits. I don't think the "do nothing" option will give them the educational background needed to be as successful in college or careers, and it will hurt all of us.

The views expressed here are my own, not of the Westfield Academy and Central School Board of Education.

Steve Cockram

Westfield, N.Y.

Westfield Academy and Central School Board of Education member



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