In less than two weeks, Brocton and Westfield voters will head to the polls for a statutory merger vote for the Brocton and Westfield school districts.
There are positives and negatives for both communities - as there have been with recent school mergers of the Chautauqua and Mayville districts in 1995 and the Cattaraugus and Little Valley districts in the early 2000s. Voters should keep a few things in mind as they make up their minds about the Brocton-Westfield merger.
There are a few things we know from our shared experience with the creation of the Chautauqua Lake and Cattaraugus-Little Valley districts.
Taxes have increased over time when merger incentive aid ended. Merging a district doesn't make those districts immune to the financial pressures that affect all levels of government - pension system contributions, fuel and heating costs, employee costs and costs associated with state mandates such as teacher evaluations and implementing the Common Core State Standards. We know merging basically provides for stable tax levies for 10 years before those pressures start piling up again.
We know programs and extra-curricular activities at both districts expanded at first, held steady for a while and then began being cut as school enrollment continued a decades-long trend of decline. There is no way to say programs in the first year of the merger will be the same in the 20th year of the merger. Merging simply allows the new district to offer students more options and a better quality of education for about 10 years.
Finally, there were a bevy of concerns that include such topics as busing, location of school buildings, placement of teachers, districtwide debt going into the merger and a host of others that had to be dealt with. Those issues are popping up in Brocton and Westfield - concerns raised by residents include Brocton residents standing to save more in the merger than Westfield residents, busing, administrative pay and a host of other items. We know not everyone is happy with how Chautauqua Lake and Cattaraugus-Little Valley handled similar issues, but it would be difficult to call the merged districts failures based on handling of those issues.
All four districts couldn't offer the same quality of education as the two merged districts now offer. There are more classes, more extra-curricular activities and more electives, facts that remain true even after the merger incentive aid ended. We know school facilities are much better than they were if the districts hadn't merged. We know the districts are doing better financially than they were before the merger.
That is the situation in Westfield and Brocton now. Doing nothing is not an option because both districts are struggling financially while, at the same time, struggling to provide a sound education.
Merging will be a bumpy road, but it gives students and taxpayers a fighting chance. It is the right thing to do.