If ever there was a consultant to put a dagger in the Brocton Central and Westfield Academy Central Schools proposal to merge, the two boards may have found one.
More than a week ago, the districts hired the Western New York Educational Service at $35,000 for their services. One of the consultants with the agency is Thomas Schmidt, former Sherman Central School superintendent.
That's right. That Thomas Schmidt, who while leading a tiny 525-student school district, was adamantly against the merging of his district with any neighboring school.
"It is safe to say that their proximity with us and the work that they have done in the area (was the reason for selection)," said Jeff Greabell of the Westfield school board during the selection of the firm. "They are personable, knowledgeable, and I have no doubt they will do a good job."
They better do "a good job" if $35,000 is being spent at a time when there is no wiggle room in school budgets.
But how open will Schmidt be to merging districts? In 2008 at a forum in the Williams Center at Fredonia State on school consolidations, Schmidt made it known he was not open to the idea. One of the reasons the former Sherman superintendent may have opposed the idea was because he was being compensated by the district with pay and benefits that totaled more than $130,000 per year.
"I think the question I would have to ask is are we doing these things ... to lower taxes and save money or to raise the benefits for our students?'' Schmidt said at the forum in 2008. "No one has ever proved to us yet that consolidation saves money. Why are we in it? Are we in it to do what's best for kids or save money?"
If consolidation was not best for kids, then why did Sherman students play football with Ripley students in past years?
If consolidations did not benefit students, then why are those in small schools having less educational programs and courses than students in large schools?
Finally, if consolidation is not about saving money, then why are so many small schools in Chautauqua County close to insolvency?
In 2008, Schmidt got it wrong on all points. Why reward him as a consultant today?
So cheers to Brocton and Westfield for working on a merger study. But bringing on a former school official with anti-merger sentiment is not in the schools or region's best interest at this time.
His appointment, which is likely to be more about the money than the cause, may ultimately be a hindrance to the study, which will then lead to a waste of more time and money.