WACS talks about merger study, starts budget work

WESTFIELD – As the process of studying the feasibility of a consolidation between the Westfield Academy and Central School and Brocton Central school districts winds down, the process of creating Westfield’s budget for the 2013-14 school year winds up.

A joint meeting of the two boards of education will be held on Wednesday, March 20 in the Brocton auditorium at 6 p.m. The consulting firm of Western New York Educational Service Council with Robert Christmann, David and Marilyn Kurzawa and Thomas Schmidt, and the assistance of Bren Price, Sr., will present its findings and recommendations regarding the consolidation of the two districts at this meeting, which is open to the public.

In preparation for budget talks, WACS Business Manager and District Clerk Al Holbrook informed the board during the February meeting that the estimated employer contribution rate of teachers salaries required of the district to fund the New York State Teacher’s Retirement System, or TRS, will be 16.25 percent in 2013-14.

Holbrook said the district has the option to pay what the rate is each year, or it could lock in a rate for forever, which would be reviewable every five years. He has always taken the approach of not hamstringing future school boards and taxpayers by locking in the rate, which would be 12.5 percent if the board chose to do so.

“If you look at this over the years, if you go with the actual rate determined by the state, the district is better off in the long run,” Holbrook said.

With the new tax cap law, if ERS and TRS go up above 2 percent, the district can count those as exclusions toward the tax cap calculations. If the board sticks with the 16.25 percent rate for next school year, TRS would be a significant exclusion. However, if the board locks in at 12.5 percent, the amount would not be high enough to count as an exclusion.

“So our expense goes down, but the exclusion also goes down,” Holbrook said.

Board member Francine Brown asked if any of these rates are negotiable. Holbrook responded the rates are set by the state, and that the state deducts the district’s TRS contribution directly from WACS’ state aid.

Board President Jeffrey Greabell said as he looks at the rate over the years, he thinks the district should continue to take the rate year by year.

Superintendent David Davison also pointed out it is not yet certain if the state will offer the 12.5 percent or not.

Board Vice President Steve Cockram asked what the teacher contribution to TRS is. Holbrook responded it depends on what tier the teacher is, with those who have been teaching over 10 years no longer contributing.

At the January meeting, Cockram reported on the Merger Advisory Committee’s fifth and final meeting where members received financial headcount data, took building tours and looked at room counts and room sizes. With all the data, the committee was asked what it thought the number of administration positions should be, what student to teacher ratios should be and the best configuration of where students attend class. For ratios, Cockram said in general members were recommending 20:1 for elementary, 20:1 for middle school and 22:1 for high school. As far as the configuration, about one third of the members thought there should be elementary schools in both buildings, middle school in one building and high school in another. About half the group thought all the elementary classes should be in one building and the middle and high school classes should be in the other. The rest of the members thought kindergarten through 12 should all be in one building, and the other building should be closed. What was not discussed in any of the situations was which building would be which.

During board member commentary, Cockram said he was getting a lot of questions about the merger, with people saying they hadn’t heard anything in a while. He suggested this is the time when marketing should begin. Davison noted the next edition of the “Wolverine” will have an article updating people about the process.

As far as the next steps, the two boards will make a final decision in May after the final report is released at the end of March. If approved by the boards, the community would vote in June and, if the proposition passes, again in October.

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