Consolidation plans ‘not just wise, it is necessary’

By GEORGE W. HOLT

Starting last October, I had the pleasure of serving with 23 other residents of the Westfield and Brocton school districts on the District Advisory Committee for the Feasibility Study that considered the consolidation of the Brocton and Westfield districts.

It was particularly meaningful to me since both my wife, Diana, and I attended the Westfield school, as did her brothers and sister, my sister, our children and recently, our grandchildren. So, Westfield and the Westfield school has been very central to our lives.

While I might nostalgically like to see the Westfield school retain its identity, it is now time to come to grips with a changed world with new demands and different realities.

In its first meeting last October, the Advisory Committee reached consensus with regard to several things, but most important were:

Due to fiscal realities, both schools, of necessity, have cut staff and programs and there is concern that our youth are not getting the education necessary to prepare them to be successful, productive citizens.

Both districts impose high taxes on it residents and they will probably continue to increase unless something is done.

The consultants’ fiscal and demographic research resulted in findings that served as the basis for 23 recommendations regarding the feasibility of consolidating the two school districts. There were several themes that ran through hundreds of pages of data the Advisory Committee analyzed as we worked with the consultants. These were as follows:

Westfield and Brocton districts are very similar demographically – for example, population has declined, student enrollment has declined.

Both districts have similar fiscal characteristics – per family income is about the same and the costs of running each district continue to increase because of inflation and mandates.

Both districts have declining revenues – state aid is decreasing, there are limitations on increasing school taxes and expenses already exceed revenues.

To continue operations both districts have cut teachers, courses, extracurricular activities including athletics and have spent reserves for operations so that it is projected by 2017 there will be no reserve monies for necessary capital repairs, replacement and unanticipated expenses.

A consolidation will result in efficiencies due to a reduction in personnel.

Consolidation will provide the new district with an estimated $25 million in merger aid over 14 years.

Part of the $25 million will furnish resources for educational opportunities.

A newly formed district will be able to provide an expanded array of courses and instruction that will furnish our youth with a sound basis to achieve and be successful in today’s (and tomorrow’s) world.

At the same time, the tax burden can be contained.

Consolidation of the districts is not just wise, it is necessary. This should not come as a surprise. It is part of a process that has been going on for a long time. In the 1920s and 1930s the little one-room school houses of the past were consolidated into central schools that have served us well. But, again, things have changed and districts find it necessary to merge in order to provide increased educational advantages, associated efficiencies and tax containment.

Even with consolidation a new Westfield-Brocton district will have a comparatively small school with approximately 1,200 students in grades K-12. Class sizes will remain small. Geographically, it will be the fifth largest district in the county behind Cassadaga Valley, Chautauqua Lake, Sherman and Clymer and much smaller with less busing time than many schools throughout the state and nation.

I am in the real estate business – we sell people houses. When a couple with children is looking to relocate to the area the first question they typically ask is, “What is the quality of the school?” And the second, “What are the taxes?” They seldom ask about the location of the school and if they do, it’s not about what community in which it is situated. What does this indicate? When relating schools to economic development, it is about quality of education and cost but not school location.

Based on carefully analyzed data it is apparent consolidation is essential in order to keep our educational system solvent and vital. The Brocton and Westfield school boards approved and supported the consolidation process and have scheduled a vote on an advisory referendum, or “straw vote” for Tuesday. If it passes, we will again go to the polls in October to vote on a binding referendum. To me the choice is obvious – a positive vote means consolidation and progress. A negative vote means more cutbacks, lower quality education and insolvency.

This is a very vital issue that should concern all residents of the Brocton and Westfield school districts. I urge you to vote on this important matter and I urge you to vote YES, for consolidation!

George W. Holt is a Westfield resident.