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DiNapoli Believes Schools Should Consolidate

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli believes if taxpayers want to save money they need to consolidate schools.

During a visit with The Post-Journal and OBSERVER editorial boards, DiNapoli discussed how the state spends a lot on education. “The real money in terms of impact to taxpayers is school districts. … If you really want to save money, it’s school districts,” he said.

The topic came up after DiNapoli was asked if smaller villages should dissolve. He admits that while getting villages to dissolve can be a challenge, getting school districts to consolidate is an even bigger challenge.

“Everybody talks about saving money, until you tell them what it really means. That’s sort of the ugly part of where the debate falls down,” he said.

In Chautauqua County, two village governments dissolved in the last 10 years — Forestville and Cherry Creek, leaving 13 villages today. There are 18 school districts and over the last 20 years, four times residents have rejected merging schools.

Voters turned down merging Fredonia and Brocton, Westfield and Brocton, Ripley and Westfield, Panama and Clymer. Fredonia and Forestville also explored merging but that was shot down before a formal proposal came to voters. There were other unsuccessful merger attempts in the 1990s as well.

In fact, the last successful merger in Chautauqua County was Chautauqua and Mayville schools that formed in 1996. Today, that school district accepts Ripley middle and high schoolers as tuitioned students.

DiNapoli wishes more schools would merge but if they’re not going to merge, he believes there are other ways they can save money. “I’ve always said the state needs to incentivize this more, but do more shared services,” he said.

He specifically highlighted school chiefs. “There’s no reason you need a superintendent, or a single administrator for every single one. If you want to keep your mascot and your high school or whatever, but merging that administrative role … that should be pushed more,” he said.

In Chautauqua County, Panama and Clymer had a single superintendent, but Bert Lictus chose to resign from Clymer in 2017 after voters rejected merging the two districts. Since then, no local schools have had a shared superintendent.

Beyond administration, DiNapoli believes there are other ways schools can share. “They do some of this already but they can do more — joint bidding on fuel, insurance, sharing on transportation. There’s no reason on back office IT services, not just between the school districts but maybe the village and the school districts could share,” he said.

DiNapoli would like to see the state offer more grants to schools to encourage shared services. “I’ve always felt that if we were more aggressive about that (sharing), we wouldn’t get into the trap of ‘oh no I don’t want to give up my school district,’ but you would be more intelligent about saving money,” he said.

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