Consultants to decide if they back merger

By DIANE R. CHODAN

OBSERVER Staff Writer

WESTFIELD – The verdict is not yet in whether the merger between Brocton and Westfield will go forward.

After focus groups, meetings and gathering data, the consultants now have to write the report. All four consultants from Western New York Educational Service Council (WNYESC), the team of consultants hired to conduct the feasibility study, say they have not drawn a conclusion yet.

Team leader Bob Christman explained, “It’s like being on a jury. You listen to all the evidence before deciding on guilt or innocence. We have to stay objective; we trained ourselves to be.”

The consultant group will meet Wednesday morning to begin discussing the data and the recommendations that will follow. The report will be about 100 pages long and not only recommend yes or no but also give suggestions for configuration of the district, staffing patterns, transportation and other items. The group will be writing its report between now and Feb. 15, when it is due at the State Education Department.

“We have to be able to support our conclusions,” said Christmann.

Brocton and Westfield boards of education met jointly this past week to hear the interim report on the feasibility study. To date the consultants had interviewed administrators and staff members, conducted focus groups, and had conducted four meetings with the district advisory committee which had 24 members, 12 from each district. Immediately after the presentation to the board, the last advisory committee meeting was held.

The consultants also gathered data from administrators in each district. Data included staffing patterns, contracts, course offerings in each district, budgetary information, and busing patterns.

Consultant Marilyn Kurzawa called the effort to date “a great experience for all of us,” She complimented the boards for their selection of committee members.

“It was unique (for the committee members) to have so much focus,” she said. She believes the members were looking out for the students. She also called “the maturity, attitude, and contributions of the students in both districts very impressive.”

She thanked the superintendents for making “a yeoman’s effort” to communicate with their district residents and the business officials in both districts who provided the data needed quickly and efficiently.

Consultant David Kurzawa said, “The report has to use hard data, not just a gut feeling.”

Consultant Robert Christmann reviewed the calendar for the study’s progress and the next steps if a merger is recommended.

Brocton Superintendent John Hertlein asked if there was something formal the boards had to do after the report was received by the boards of education.

Christmann said, “It is up to residents to let you know (what they think about the report). … What the state (education department) is looking is for the boards to reach out to the community.”

He suggested that residents may call, speak up at board of education meetings, or write letters to the editor of the newspaper.

The boards will not see the report before it is sent to the state education department.

BOCES Superintendent David O’Rourke explained, “The process depends on the Commissioner’s (of Education) order.”

O’Rourke said the Commissioner can ask for more information and/or revisions to the report. The Commissioner decides whether to accept the report’s conclusions.

“Whether we like it or not, this is the process,” said O’Rourke.

After the meeting Brocton Board of Education member Susan Hardy said, “We had a chance to look over everything (given to the committee). The best summary is through our hard drive.”

Comments on this article may be directed to dchodan@observertoday.com