BROCTON - A merged Westfield-Brocton school district is starting to take shape.
Recently, consultants from Western New York Educational Service Council recommended the merger of the Brocton and Westfield school districts. The state Education Department has accepted the consultants' nearly 300-page report. The report not only recommends a merger, it also details 22 recommendations for how the district should be structured. Each recommendation is followed by a finding or findings, drawn from data, that support it.
Robert Christmann, one of the consultants, told the audience that to recommend a merger, the consultants needed to find a merger will produce cost savings through economies and efficiencies and expanded educational opportunities for the students.
"This is not about which town is better, nor is it about which 'school' is better," said consultant Marilyn Kurzawa. "It is about how we can literally save the educational system in two floundering school districts by consolidating them into one self-sufficient and productive one. We really need to take the bull by the horns so to speak and decide exactly what we are looking for in our school district. We are starting with two extremely similar districts that already fit seamlessly on a few fronts. We need to start from that aspect if we really expect to make any headway at the onset of this endeavor."
If the board decides to go forward there will be future public meetings before a straw vote is held in June.
The consultants envision a new district governed by a nine-member board. The merger would have three phases and happen over a period of several years, with both buildings used at first before a single building is built to house the new district. In the first phase, lasting three years, kindergarten through third grades would be at Brocton, pre-kindergarten through fifth grades would be in Westfield and sixth through 12th grades would be in Brocton. In phase 2, which would last two years, students in kindergarten through fifth grades would be housed in Westfield and the rest in Brocton. In Phase 3, there will be one building, using existing facilities which may require renovations to be educationally appropriate, or the construction of a new facility mid-way between existing facilities.
Consultants recommend a review of all secondary courses to make sure they reflect state Education Department requirements and student needs.
The new board should reinstate any electives cut in past years and new electives. There should be strong consideration given to the reinstatement and immediate expansion of a variety of advanced placement classes. The Agricultural Program should be given strong consideration for reinstatement. All courses, current and new, should have a minimum of eight to 10 students enrolled before they are implemented. General class sizes at the secondary level should average 20 students. Courses affiliated with two- and four-year colleges should also be examined for student access.
As a new district, staff members should organize into whatever formal bargaining units reflect their needs. The bargaining process should immediately begin with the new school board. When the new board begins negotiating new contracts, consultants recommend the board should start from scratch rather than level up from one contract to another. Leveling up requires the best of both contracts be accepted. It is also recommended a longer school day be considered when negotiating new contracts.
Both transportation centers should remain in use to house buses during Phases 1 and 2. Brocton's bus garage would house buses for the north and east bus runs and would be used for all maintenance work. The Westfield bus garage would be used for storage of buses for south and west bus runs and possibly house maintenance and buildings and grounds vehicles. District needs would be assessed to determine a future use of the building, if any.
Consultants recommend using two bus runs, one for elementary school children and one for secondary school children, with the new school board coming up with a transportation policy that specifies the distance, if any, for children walking to school. It is expected that no bus run will be greater than 60 minutes, and most would be less than 45 minutes.
In addition to the reduction of one superintendent, consultants recommend a transition to a central business office under BOCES, making those services eligible for additional state aid. Further cuts would include one elementary principal and one high school principal. There would also be a reduction of one business official, business office staff and some clerical positions.
Based on the number of students in Brocton in the first two phases of a merger, disciplinary duties of administrators, the APPR teacher evaluation requirements, budgeting and transportation responsibilities, scheduling events, dealing with parent and personnel issues, overseeing instruction in the building and the goal of accelerating the school academic improvement process, the consultants recommend adding an assistant principal.
Consultants also recommend hiring a BOCES curriculum and staff developer for kindergarten through 12th grade to work on the district's instructional focus. In particular, attention would be given to elementary English language arts and math. While there would be a greater emphasis at the elementary level, assistance would also need to be given to the secondary school teachers. It is also recommended the district have a director of pupil services to deal with several areas of concern identified through the study process.
Services involving 1.6 part-time staff members are proposed to be changed to be one full-time position responsible for educational technology programs.
In other areas of personnel there would be a restructured half-time equivalent position of athletics director. The number of psychologists would be cut from two to one, guidance department staffers would be cut to two and assigned to the secondary school with the employment of a new full-time position of school social worker assigned to the elementary level. One cafeteria manager, one transportation director and one head custodial position would all be cut.
The new district superintendent would also be tasked with reviewing the number of employees for clerical, custodial, mechanics, buildings and grounds, food service and transportation positions, based on the number of staff employed. Those numbers can change during each phase of the merger. Consultants also recommend eliminating a part-time school nurse, one school board clerk and one of the school's treasurers.
Finally, consultants recommend both school buildings have a support staff member employed or reassigned to provide additional building security.
Consultants recommend the new operating incentive aid that comes to the newly merged district be allocated by the new board as follows:
40 percent to reduce taxes,
35 percent to improve student programs and address personnel costs,
25 percent to reserve funds for providing greater long term financial stability; and
use for the 2 percent local share of any future capital expenditures.
In order for the new board to maintain legally a capital reserve fund from 25 percent of the operating incentive aid, voters must approve the establishment of a capital reserve account. The money is then available to cover the local share of any capital project (2 percent) and to provide savings for future needs as determined by the voters. Consultants recommend a thorough assessment of the new district's building needs with a capital project proposed to meet those needs. The consultants say the building project should not require local funding.