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Whining over a ‘losing battle’

March 6, 2014
By John D’Agostino - , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

Talk about being proactive.

On Tuesday, elected members and administrators in the fourth largest county district began discussing the inadequacy of the programs being offered, especially by the small schools annually struggling for survival. Unfortunately, many of those district residents and leaders have their heads in the sand.

"Everyone keeps fighting to maintain what they have and it's a losing battle," Fredonia school Superintendent Paul DiFonzo said. "Every district in the county has dropped significantly in enrollment. It's a reality, so it's time for us to really look and see ... what we have to do across the county to have students get the programming they need."

Article Photos

Submitted photo
Fredonia Superintendent Paul DiFonzo, right, talks about the need for partnerships.

Leadership on this initiative would be better coming from state officials or Gov. Andrew Cuomo. But as the OBSERVER constantly notes, area residents must take accountability for our failure to attract residents during this population drain. It is us, not Albany, that has continued to allow for numerous taxing entities and school districts.

It has been a formula for failure.

Students, taxpayers and small businesses are the big losers in the fight against the status quo. But the progressive Fredonia schools also have been stung in the past.

In 2004, the district attempted to merge with Forestville. That effort was squashed days later by the Forestville board after one meeting.

In 2009, it was approached by Brocton after a community meeting with at least 150 residents where an informal vote on partnering with Westfield or Fredonia was taken. In terms of response, Fredonia received the loudest ovation.

Fredonia approved the merger plan on the first vote, Brocton with its questionable voting methods turned it down.

Today, all three of these districts are in decline in terms of enrollment and offerings. They are not alone, however. Westfield is struggling. Silver Creek is as well.

The glory years of the school aid formulas of 1990s and early 2000s will not be returning - and enrollment is not increasing. That actually is the real temper tantrum by school administrators and boards who grew comfortable with the state's overspending during that era.

So spoiled are these administrators - those with total compensations of $200,000 or more - some were actually scheduled to protest the lack of state funding on Thursday in Kenmore. In other words, these high-priced leaders paid for by tax dollars are not looking for solutions, they're just looking for another handout.

Fredonia, however, did not seem to be following that lead earlier this week. They are looking for partners - school administrators and parents who believe we deserve a better return on the high price we pay for education.

Fortunately, two of our county schools already recognize this. Both Chautauqua Lake and Ripley secondary students have benefitted from a tuitioning plan. Ripley students are transported to the school on Route 394 and are still amazed at what education looks like without three study halls each day.

Imagine how much greater the opportunity could be for every student with partnerships like these?

And students are the victims in our educational dysfunction. They already get along. Some even play on combined district athletic teams.

But this is a generational and territorial thing. Too many adults become childlike when anyone begins to discuss why mergers and consolidations make sense.

County school districts and governments are the norm in states growing population. Our configuration here makes us a laughingstock to those who have moved away or those who consider locating here.

So stubborn are the "status quo" boosters and adults, they are willing to continue devaluing the high-priced education of their community's youth without considering the consequences of their future just to keep clinging to their rural school.

Those students are being ripped off.

John D'Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Comments can be sent to or call 366-3000, ext. 401.



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