WESTFIELD - One message was clear during a community informational session on Wednesday about the proposed merger between Brocton Central School and Westfield Academy and Central School: This is for the children and the time is now to vote "yes."
Many residents and parents who showed up to the public forum in Westfield's auditorium took the position that while the minuscule amount of savings Westfield will be getting compared to Brocton may be scrutinized time and time again, the students of both districts are the ones who have the most to gain if the merger passes, or lose if it fails.
"I've been here since second grade and I've seen program after program slowly decline," Westfield student Collin Connolley said. "I think the voters need to focus most on who this is going to really be affecting, which is the students. It's not all about how much money you save. People think of Brocton over here and Westfield over there, but we have to think of it as one. Focus on the similarities, not the differences."
OBSERVER Photo by Greg Fox
Brocton Superintendent John Hertlein (left) and Westfield Superintendent David Davison were on hand at Wednesday’s community informational session at Westfield School to answer questions from the public regarding the merger vote between the two schools.
Both residents and school administration alike said that a merger will help increase class options and extra-curriculars for students, even though the number of electives at Westfield had been maintained over the years. Brocton Superintendent John Hertlein said his school "barely has any electives."
"We do have some teachers who are teaching three different electives in the same period," Westfield Superintendent David Davison said. "We're fortunate we have dedicated professionals willing to take in students in different areas, but it's not the kind of quality of education we want to offer our kids where my teacher is trying to teach three different things at the same time."
"The college freshmen I see succeed are those who had extra-curriculars," Westfield resident and college professor Joseph Span said. "They know how to balance their time schedule. The ones who have had AP classes do really well in college."
"This is about trends. It's not about, 'I'm only going to save $15, so why would I vote in favor of this?,'" Westfield resident and Advisory Committee member George Hope said. "It's about the quality of the education. You can pick the study apart, but they're projections. They're estimates based on the best information that was made available. The trend is we're losing students and teachers. I would love to see things stay as they are, but they aren't going to."
"Stop talking about $15 when it's talking about teaching a child to read," Westfield resident Crystal Miller said, advocating for the merger.
Asking about finances of the merged district, Mark Winslow and Thane Bodemiller both wanted to know if the entire EXCEL Capital Project at Brocton's facilities is, in fact, state-aidable.
"Obviously, we don't find out what is totally aidable until after the final cost report is sent in and that doesn't happen until December," Hertlein said. "There is good speculation that the stuff we put in will all be aidable because we were working with our architects and the fiscal advisors we have. The items that we did know that we weren't going to get aid on, we just didn't do them."
Winslow also asked as to how soon efficiencies, or monetary savings from cuts, would be realized in a merged district, pointing out that most will not be realized on day one.
"It's true that the first year is a transitional year and not all efficiencies may be realized, but there are a number of efficiencies that can be gained and will be gained as we go through," Davison said, citing reductions in administrative staff.
"It's important to recognize that all of this, the efficiencies and budget, would ultimately be determined by the new board," BOCES Superintendent David O'Rourke noted. "That's a very important caution that all of us have to have."
Westfield Business Manager Alan Holbrook also pointed out that Westfield, were it not to merge, would become fiscally insolvent in the 2018-2019 school year, according to new estimates received a couple weeks ago. Davison said the study had predicted the 2017-2018 fiscal year for insolvency in both districts if they were not to merge.
"I represent a district who didn't have five more years until insolvency. We had one," Ripley Central Schools Principal Lauren Ormsby said. "I got to see what happens to programming when you're dying a slow death. We lost sports programs, our electives and, meanwhile, there are kids getting educated and going to school. We had people saying 'Oh, we have five more years and we're not going to be insolvent, we're doing fine.' Meanwhile, programs got cut and eventually people lost their jobs because we had to do something else. We had to tuition. We had to send our kids elsewhere because we couldn't make something happen as communities. Through merging, I know that there's ways to save teachers' jobs and ... on top of it, providing more opportunities for students."
Eligible U.S. residents who are over the age of 18 who reside in the school district may vote on the merger in the gym lobby at Brocton and in the main lobby at Westfield from 12 to 8 p.m on Wednesday.
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