WESTFIELD - It was another long day recently for the members of the District Advisory Committee for the feasibility study into the merger of Brocton and Westfield districts. The discussion at this meeting reflected more tension than at previous meetings.
Starting with a tour of the Westfield building, the committee gave its reactions to the site and then went on to review the following topics: focus group data, comparison of school facilities, the teachers' contracts in each district, staffing in each district, special education data, extracurricular activities and athletics, program cuts, and a letter received from an interested citizen.
It was during the staffing comparison that the tension became apparent.
OBSERVER Photos by Diane R. Chodan
Consultant Robert Christmann (standing) gives the committee an overview of what is planned for the next meeting on Thursday, Dec. 13 at 6 p.m. in Brocton.
Consultant Thomas Schmidt had prepared tables showing the number of teachers and total students in each grade level for elementary school. His last column showed the average number of students per grade in a combined district, if all teachers remained.
Data for the high schools was presented according to the specific class offered and the average number of students in the class in each district. No data was presented for middle school.
Neil Huber, who teaches global studies at Westfield and is a representative on the committee from Brocton, said, "It seems like the focus has shifted off what is best for the students."
Huber said that the elimination of teachers should not be considered, citing the small classes as a benefit to the students.
Schmidt replied that he had presented the data, and it was what could be looked at when developing alternatives.
"You could eliminate staff or pick up electives," he said.
He noted there was no specific recommendation to eliminate staff.
Consultant Marilyn Kurzawa added, "Students said during the focus group meetings that they prefer more class options to smaller classes."
Committee member Marie Resnick said, "The tension is not any of our fault. The problem is a money problem. It's an ugly thing."
She said she now understood why people would be reluctant to participate in the process and counseled patience with the process.
Pete Holt, a committee member from Westfield asked, "To what point is what we say reflected in the process? I am confused by the process."
Kurzawa said, "The advisory committee is just that. It provides advice."
She added that the consultant group values the committee, listens very carefully, and incorporates the input into its final report.
Another committee member asked whether the committee has access to the final report before submitted. The answer was the consultant group writes the final report.
The committee will learn the final recommendations after the State Education Department approves or rejects the report.
If, down the road, the districts do decide to merge, the new school board that is elected will make final decisions as to the details of the new district.
Larry McFadden, a committee member from Brocton, summarized, "We (the committee) voted on nothing. ... The report is just showing the possibilities. ... It's up to the board."
The date for the next advisory committee meeting was changed to Dec. 13 at 6-9 p.m. in the Brocton cafeteria. The meeting is to be structured for more input by the committee.
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