Westfield survey results negative for school merger revote

WESTFIELD – With two months left until a potential revote on a merger between Brocton and Westfield schools can be requested, an official direction on what to do has yet to arise, but community survey results out of Westfield may indicate a revote could be dead in the water.

The Westfield Academy and Central School District recently uploaded a PowerPoint slideshow to its website that details the results of the survey that had been released in April, entitled “Future Focus.” The survey asked residents where they would like to see their district’s future direction go, as well as why they voted down a binding merger vote last October.

According to the results, 67 percent of respondents indicated there should not be a revote on the merger, with 33 percent in favor of a revote.

A total of 252 people submitted a survey; 225 completed it.

While these results seem definitive, Westfield Board of Education President Steven Cockram said to the OBSERVER that no final conclusions have been drawn. Westfield must wait until after Oct. 10 to officially make a decision to hold another vote on the same merger study.

“Since the original straw vote (in June 2013) was positive (for a merger) and the binding vote was negative, our taxpayers told us two different things, so we’ve gone out with three different initiatives to get feedback from the community,” Cockram said. “The survey was initiative number two. We will have the results back from some focus groups that a Fredonia student did and they will present at our meeting on the 11th.”

Cockram went on to explain the first initiative out of the three.

“We had reconstituted our strategic planning committee and they looked at some overall pictures and looked at the plan that they had come up with three or four years ago of what we were going to do as the state funding was plummeting and we were looking at financial insolvency and we were trying to figure out where to go,” he explained. “Part of that whole plan was a merger to save some costs, so we reconstituted those folks and looked at the situation and made some recommendations.”

A description of the newly updated strategic plan, which was completed in the spring, can be viewed on Westfield’s website, www.wacs.wnyric.org. No indications of a merger revote with Brocton are given in the plan, but it does list “evaluating and investigating potential partnerships with businesses, other schools and public entities” as “ongoing.”

The community survey’s results for future centralization efforts seemed evenly split, with 54 percent indicating they would not like to see any additional attempts and 46 percent in favor of more attempts.

Questions regarding October’s merger vote concluded more respondents voted against the merger (56 percent) as opposed to for it (26 percent). Reasonings for people’s votes were scattered: 13.5 percent indicated academic programming influenced their vote; 20.95 percent indicated the tax rate; 9.04 percent ranked the location of the centralized high school as their biggest factor; 15.78 percent stated the potential impact in general; and 40.74 percent had other unique reasons.

Westfield Superintendent David Davison declined to comment on the survey results or a potential revote with Brocton, citing the decision for a revote comes solely from the board of education. He did indicate that the financial outlook for Westfield has improved since 2012, with increases in state aid, grants and donations and a prediction of a population growth spurt in a 15-year outlook study.

Brocton overwhelmingly supported merging with Westfield 643 votes to 74, but Westfield rejected the merger by about 200 votes, 718 to 507. Both communities needed a majority in favor of consolidation for it to become a reality.

OBSERVER Correspondent David Prenatt contributed to this article. Comments may be sent to gfox@observertoday.com