Panama, Clymer Should Be Commended For Merger Dicussions

Panama and Clymer School Districts have been sharing the cost of a district superintendent, and this newspaper recently reported that focus groups are now meeting in these communities to discuss the possibility of merging the districts.

As far as I am concerned this is heartening news. Most school districts in the county are faced with declining enrollment and, after a while, there are just too few students to effectively carry on an educational program.

The first program that usually gets addressed is in the inability to field a football team, so school athletic activities are then merged with neighboring districts. However, the bigger problem comes at the classroom level. Here it becomes more and more difficult to teach electives and college prep courses because there are so few students per graduating class.

We should commend Panama and Clymer for at least looking at the efficiencies of joining forces. I think there is general agreement that we really don’t need 18 separate school districts in Chautauqua County. Yet, we are all “creatures of habit,” and it is hard to change the ways we do things, perhaps especially in matters dealing with education.

I was interested in the fact that the Amish community is also being consulted in this process. They have their own schools but, at times, the Amish use the school bus services of a district in transporting students who live far away from their schools.

The Amish certainly have a right to be involved in discussions dealing with education/transportation since they also pay school taxes.

There are financial incentives to encourage school consolidation. Special “merger” funds are available from Albany to help defray costs. Some savings in administrative overhead can also be expected. However, I expect that the concerns of residents will revolve around: “I like it the way it is! Why change it?” It is easier not to change when the state of New York is picking up most of the cost of public education.

One legitimate concern is the amount of bus travel time for students.

I would expect that some of this can be minimized by rearranging bus schedules to enable students living at a longer distance to board a bus from a given community, and then travel without further stops directly to the school. The state aid for busing is around 90 percent so that should help in dealing with the financial side of transportation issues.

The goal of these community discussions in Panama and Clymer is to get all of the issues on the table so that residents can make an informed decision. At the end of the process, there will be a “straw vote” to gauge support and then that can be followed by an official vote.

I do not live in either the Panama or Clymer School District, but I commend the leaders in those communities for addressing the educational needs brought on by changing demographics and by the forthright manner in which they are reaching out to the public.

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.