Merger recommended

BROCTON – The consultants from Western New York Educational Service Counsel recommended the merger of the Brocton and Westfield school districts, and the State Education Department accepted their nearly 300-page report.

Wednesday evening, the four consultants spoke about the report and presented copies of document to board members, administrators, and members of the District Advisory Committee at a joint meeting of the Brocton and Westfield Boards of Education.

The report not only recommends a merger, it also details 22 other recommendations for how the district should be structured. Each recommendation is followed by a finding or findings, drawn from data, that support it.

Consultant Robert Christmann told the audience that to recommend a merger, the consultants needed to find that a merger will produce both cost savings through economies and efficiencies and expanded educational opportunities for the students.

He said, “The arguments have to be supported by data.”

Before beginning to detail the recommendations consultant Marilyn Kurzawa quoted a member of the advisory committee who wrote, “This is not about which town is better, nor is it about which “school” is better. It is about how we can literally save the educational system in two floundering school districts by consolidating them into one self-sufficient and productive one. We really need to take the bull by the horns so to speak and decide exactly what we are looking for in our school district. We are starting with two extremely similar districts that already fit seamlessly on a few fronts. We need to start from that aspect if we really expect to make any headway at the onset of this endeavor.”

In addition to the recommendation that the district merge, the report recommends:

That when negotiating new contracts for the merged district, the new board of education should start from scratch rather than level up from one contract to another. (Leveling up requires the best of both contracts be accepted.)

That when negotiating new contracts, the new board strongly consider a longer school day.

That both transportation centers remain in use to house buses during Phases 1 and 2. Brocton’s bus garage would house buses for the north and east bus runs and would be used for all maintenance work. The Westfield bus garage would be used for storage of buses for south and west bus runs and possibly house maintenance and buildings and grounds vehicles. District needs would be assessed to determine a future use of this building, if any.

The current use of two bus runs (one for elementary and one for secondary) should continue for the foreseeable future.

The new board of education should determine a new transportation policy for the district which they believe to be safe, fair and equitable for each of the K-12 grades, specifying the distance, if any, for walkers. It is expected that no bus run will be greater than 60 minutes, and most would be less than 45 minutes.

In addition to the reduction of one superintendent, there should be a transition to a Central Business Office under BOCES, thereby making those services eligible for additional state aid. Further reductions would impact one elementary principal and one high school principal. There would also be a reduction of one business official, business office staff, and some clerical positions.

Based on the number of students in Brocton in Phases 1-2, the disciplinary duties of administrators, the APPR teacher evaluation requirements, budgeting and transportation responsibilities, scheduling events, dealing with parent and personnel issues, overseeing instruction in the building and the goal of accelerating the school academic improvement process, it would be important that the new board add the position of K-12 assistant principal.

That there be employed one BOCES K-12 curriculum and staff developer to hasten and deepen the instructional focus in the new district. In particular, attention would be given to the areas of elementary language arts and mathematics. While there would be a greater emphasis at the elementary level, assistance would also need to be given to the secondary staff for the same purpose, especially at the middle level.

That there be employed a Director of Pupil Services to deal with several areas of concern identified through the study process.

That the services involving 1.6 staff working currently as a part-time between the two districts in the area of technology be changed to create a 1.0 full-time position responsible for educational technology programs.

In other areas of personnel there would be a restructured .5 full-time equivalent position of director of athletics; that the number of psychologists be reduced from 2 to 1; that the guidance staff be reduced from 2.5 to 2 and assigned to the secondary level with the employment of a new full-time position of school social worker assigned to the elementary level; that one cafeteria manager, one transportation director and one head custodial position all be eliminated.

That the new superintendent of the district make, as a priority, a review of staff levels for clerical, custodial, mechanics, buildings and grounds, food service and transportation positions, based on the number of staff employed. During phases 1-3 there can be reductions in each area.

That the new district reduce health services (nurse) by .5 full-time equivalent, board clerk by 1 and treasurer by 1.

That at both the elementary and secondary buildings a support staff member be employed/ reassigned to provide additional security for students and staff.

That the new Operating Incentive Aid that comes to the newly merged district be allocated by the new board as follows: 40 percent to reduce taxes, 35 percent to improve student programs and address personnel costs, 25 percent to reserve funds for providing greater long term financial stability and to use for the 2 percent local share of any future capital expenditures.

In order for the new board to maintain legally a capital reserve fund from 25 percent of the operating incentive aid, the voters must approve the establishment of a capital reserve account. This money is then available to cover the local share of any capital project (2 percent) and to provide savings for future needs as determined by the voters.

That there should be a review of all secondary courses to make sure that they reflect State Education Department requirements and student needs. The new board should strongly consider the reinstatement of any electives reduced already as well as implementation of new electives. There should be strong consideration given to the reinstatement and immediate expansion of a variety of advanced placement (AP) classes. The Agricultural Program should be given strong consideration for reinstatement. All courses, current and new, should have a minimum of eight to ten students enrolled before they are implemented. General class sizes at the secondary level should average 20 students … Courses affiliated with two and four year colleges should also be examined for student access.

That there should be a thorough and deliberate assessment of building needs in the new district. A capital project should be proposed to meet those needs. Planned well, the project should not require local funding to cover costs.

There should be annual student enrollment projections to monitor district change.

As a new district and as soon as possible, all staff should organize into whatever formal bargaining units reflect their needs. The bargaining process should immediately begin with the new school board.

That there be a nine member board of education for the new district.

A three-phase multi-year plan to use parts of both buildings in the beginning and then eventually phase into a single building.

Phase 1 and for a three-year period, students would be organized as follows: pre-k-3 in Brocton; pre-k-5 in Westfield and grades 6-12 in Brocton.

Phase 2 and for a two year period, that all elementary students K-5 be housed in Westfield.

In Phase 3, there will be created one building, using existing facilities which may require renovations to be educationally appropriate, or the construction of a new facility mid-way between existing facilities.

The consultants were applauded by the audience for their work. Jeff Graebel, president of the Westfield Board of Education and Thomas DeJoe, president of the Brocton Board of Education both cautioned that the report has to be studied carefully.

Superintendent John Hertlein said, “I have reading for the weekend.”

The districts intend to put the report online. If the board decides to go forward there will be future public meetings before a straw vote is held in June.

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