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School mergers: Longer term next steps

June 12, 2013
Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

I wrote first drafts of all of these letters before the consultant's report came out, when "recommendation 23" - closing a building in five years - wasn't in our merger lingo. For us glass half full people, we look at a merger as forming a bigger community and a stronger school. There will be more educational opportunity for our kids and grandkids at a flat or lower cost to the taxpayer.

But the consultants pointed out the 600 pound gorilla in the room. In just a few years, Westfield plus Brocton's student population will be small enough to fit into one building. That's regardless of if we are merged or not. The other little secret is that closing a building is where real savings is. Fredonia recently saved half a million dollars per year by closing an elementary school. If you didn't like the potential loss of identity with a Brocton and Westfield merger, then accept it will cost both taxpayers an extra million dollars per year.

So what is a new district creating its new identity to do? Well, don't worry about which building will "make it." Don't make a merger vote based on speculation on that issue. The board members you elect and tell what to do will make that decision in a few years. Or they will choose a different path.

The Westfield Academy and Central School community strategic planning committee identified a better long term strategy a couple years ago. The long term student population decline says our identity needs to continue to evolve over time. In about four years the next consolidation talks should start with Ripley, Chautauqua Lake, Sherman and Fredonia. The bus ride is less than an hour for virtually all of these. A second merger would create an even bigger community, a second round of incentive aid and more ability to forge our own future in uncertain economic times.

The economic model that pays for our kid's educations is broken. Our revenue side is pretty much flat and expenses continue to rise. We have a structural deficit that leads to long term financial and educational disaster. Doing nothing has the educational disaster upon us in just a couple years. A merger allows the Westfield and Brocton districts to have some breathing room while we rebalance labor costs and the scale of our educational mission.

I urge you to also support the Westfield and Brocton merger and vote for it on June 18. While the future may be murky with a merger, the old magic eight ball says, "signs point to yes." We the voters will get to say what form that yes is. Yes is a much better option than to stand alone.

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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