On Wednesday, residents of the Westfield and Brocton school districts will be voting on whether to consolidate the two districts.
The June 9 "straw vote" indicated by overwhelming numbers that the consensus of the residents was to bring the two districts together as one. But that was non-binding and the Wednesday vote will decide if consolidation will actually happen.
Since the straw vote, there has been a great deal of discussion among the voters concerning whether this really is a good idea, some of it based on new thoughts and much of it on misinformation and misunderstanding. Much of the misinformation is dispelled with a reading of the feasibility study prepared by the consultants with the assistance of the Advisory Committee. It is clear from much of the inaccurate information being circulated that many people have not taken the time to read the report.
On the other hand, some of the criticism of the consolidation is based on facts that are clearly stated in the report. For example, if the merger takes place, one district may receive greater benefit than the other. Is this a valid reason to oppose consolidation? That because one community may benefit more in some respect from a merger than the other, even though they both benefit, residents should not vote for the merger? The logic in that and similar thinking escapes me.
Let's not forget what this is all about:
First and foremost, it's about providing our youth will a sound educational background so they can succeed and contribute to their community.
Due to fiscal realities, both schools, of necessity, have cut staff and programs and there is concern our young people are not getting the education necessary to prepare them for the future.
Both districts impose high taxes on its residents and taxes are projected to increase unless a change is made.
Despite increasing taxes, both districts face financial insolvency in the next few years unless something is done.
Nothing has changed since the study and the straw vote:
We can't lose sight of our main objective of providing as good an education for our children as possible and, as currently configured, the districts are not able to do so.
We know programming has been cut to the detriment of our students - the Wednesday evening meeting in Westfield provided testimony from a Ripley school administrator about what happens as budgets require cutbacks and a school board member reminded us that Westfield now teaches only one foreign language, an obvious and serious example of the result of cutbacks.
We still know that school taxes are high and will likely increase.
And the trend toward insolvency is still present.
While there may be some unknowns about the future after consolidation, the positive aspects of a merger outshine the negative. Sure, there will be some bumps in the road. Certainly we will have some minor inconveniences. But compare that to an increased quality of education, a probable, stable tax rate for years to come and a financially sound school system. The benefits will far outweigh any downside connected with the changes.
Two bright young men came forward at the Wednesday evening meeting - one a former Westfield student and the other a current student - and encouraged us to put aside our differences and concentrate on our similarities. They reminded us that this is about quality of education, not which community is better or will receive the greatest benefit. They urged us to concentrate on the positive aspects of merger and to think bigger in terms of the community at-large, and not just our immediate neighborhoods.
It has become apparent that mergers of other small schools have provided benefits to students through enhanced educational opportunities and to taxpayers through improved tax structures. For Brocton and Westfield to decline the opportunities presented by consolidation would be a travesty. The overriding benefits so far outweigh the detriments that it is obvious it has to happen.
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 vote "YES," for consolidation!
George W. Holt is a