BROCTON – Frustration and disappointment were clearly discernible on Thursday during the first Brocton Board of Education meeting since the failed statutory merger vote between Brocton and Westfield schools.
“Tonight’s meeting is about planning to plan (for the future), not necessarily walking away with anything concrete,” Superintendent John Hertlein said. “The first part of our concern now is financial. What’s our budget look like and what will our budget look like for the next five years? We also need to have an audit of our curriculum. What do we offer? What is good? What is okay? What do we need and what do we want from our principals and our teachers? And I think third is we need to reach out to the community to see what they really want Brocton to look like.”
Hertlein suggested the board hold a retreat to figure out the next steps for the district, which the board agreed would be a good idea.
“A retreat would be essential, especially at this time,” board member Thomas DeJoe said. “We need direction as to where the board is heading because, right now, we’re basically starting at square one again and we need to get moving. We have a predominantly young, new board and one of the best aspects of a retreat is the bonding and getting to know each other and coming out of there as a unified group.”
While the board did attempt to look toward the future, a discussion on what happened on Wednesday was also deemed essential.
“I’d like to thank everyone for all their hard work. We took it tough last night, but Brocton will move on and we’ve got to worry about Brocton,” Board President Douglas Walter said. “We can’t worry about anyone else right now. We can’t worry about Westfield. They chose and I respect their decision, but I will only thank those voters who said yes. This was for the kids and the communities and I was extremely disappointed in (people’s) decision in voting no. This was a democratic process and you have to respect that and you’ve got to move on. You can’t dwell on it. As long as the decision was based on good facts, then I’ll respect it.”
“I’m sure we’ll have comments about what happened five years ago (with the failed merger vote with Fredonia),” Walter added. “All I can say is that was five years ago. That’s the past. Right now, we’ve got to worry about Brocton. Fredonia, Westfield, that’s in the past, and as far as I’m concerned, I’ll do anything to help this school district.”
Brocton overwhelmingly supported merging with Westfield after the voting results were announced on Wednesday, but Westfield rejected the merger by about 200 votes. The large turnout was a point of praise for the Brocton School Board, especially for the number of people in Brocton who supported a merger (643 to 74).
“We’re all just still kind of numb from what took place last night,” Hertlein said. “Last night was extremely disappointing and it disappoints all of us. We worked a year and a half on what we thought was a very good plan for both communities, for kids and taxpayers alike. But, in so doing, we need to move forward and create new dreams and new visions for our community.”
Brocton resident John Ames asked if the board would ever revisit a possible merger with Fredonia.
“I hope that there would be an open mind toward Fredonia, which voted two to one for the merger five years ago and has indicated, since that time, a willingness to reopen those talks,” he said. “The reality is, Fredonia is an option that still exists.”
“Everything is always on the table,” Hertlein replied. “I think the board will have open minds on anything that we need to do.”
“This board is open to anything,” Walter said. “As far as I’m concerned, this is the best high school in the county.”
The OBSERVER asked Hertlein whether the merger vote with Westfield will be revisited in the future.
“We have a year and a day to revisit and revote, if the commissioner of education approves another vote with the same feasibility study as before, but I think we need to look at that option without the effects we are going through right now,” Hertlein said. “It will take some time to consider that. Maybe in a month or two.”
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