New York State wants schools to merge so badly it dangles huge pots of money in front of schools to actually merge. Should we take this incentive aid and improve the education for our children and grandchildren?
In my term as a school board member, the number one message taxpayers have given me is they don't care if the money comes out of one pocket in the form of local taxes, or out of another pocket in the form of state taxes. We do want to lower our overall tax load, but do we want just the 5,000 people in the Westfield Academy and Central School district to fund our student's education, or do we want 18 million fellow New Yorkers to chip in, or do we want 350 million other Americans to help teach our kids?
Before the incentive aid is even factored in, the first way a merger has financial benefits is through streamlining overhead. Administrative costs can be cut significantly. Members of the merger committee were finding $300,000 to $600,000 savings by having an administration do the same job for a larger number of kids. Secondly, with more students, the student to teacher ratio can be optimized more easily, giving an equivalent savings. These are still not enough to cover the structural deficit caused by reduced state aid, the tax cap, and rapidly increasing labor costs.
NYS dangles a 40 percent increase of a school's operating aid for four years, with that amount decreasing to zero by year 14. This $2.6 million per year is real money. There are several ways to use the additional funds:
Plug the structural deficit;
The new board could return programming cut in the last couple years;
Put money in the bank to pay for years six and beyond; and
The newly elected board could use it for other things, but you the taxpayers will hold their feet in the fire?
Overall, a Westfield-Brocton merger presents some huge financial benefits to the local taxpayers. It is up to the community members on the new board to decide how to leverage it.
The views expressed here are my own, not of the Westfield Academy and Central School Board of Education.
Westfield Academy and Central School Board of Education member