By LAUREN ORMSBY
I am writing to express my thoughts after attending the recent merger information meeting held this past Wednesday evening in Westfield. I attended the meeting as a resident, a mother and an educator.
As a longtime employee of Ripley Central School, I am very familiar with the business of consolidation. This includes the studies, the committees, the information meetings ... and ultimately, desperate attempts (under the guise of "concerns" for the students) made to win votes at the last minute.
In my experience, these concerns mostly emerged within the last week before a vote and often at the final information meeting. For example, at the final information meeting in Ripley, these concerns revolved around transportation, the loss of identity of our school and increased class size for our students. Ultimately, at Ripley, we were able to overcome these concerns in order to tuition our students this year.
Considering the families at Ripley are currently experiencing change first-hand, I made it a point to attend the Westfield-Brocton consolidation meeting with the intention of being available to assuage any potential concerns of the community. To my surprise, in the first hour given to the public to ask questions, not one person brought up any of the student-related concerns I expected to hear. In fact, not even one question or concern was raised about the children. Conversely, every question or concern was couched in a "what's in it for me" attitude.
Questions centered on tax reductions, property values and employment. While to some degree, these are authentic concerns, they do not take into account sacrifices we make as adults for the benefit of the community's children, our children. How can we simply reduce our children's futures to a dollar amount? What price tag can be put on providing more opportunities for our children? To me, if we want to attempt to reduce these complex issues to a simple decision, the decision is that I vote "yes" to a merger and thus positively impact the education of thousands of children. While I should hope that would be enough to persuade all constituents, I know there are some who are still willing to elect the "five year insolvency plan."
Well, as an administrator who had to follow that plan, let me help you understand how that looks. It starts by cutting sports and extracurriculars, followed by electives. Then, sections of courses are combined in order to cut teachers, while the remaining teachers are forced to teach multiple grade levels. Meanwhile, students can never get in to see teachers for extra help due to the teachers' packed schedules. Further, study halls are added simply to "house" students who previously would have filled their schedules with electives.
The electives that are available are filled with students from all four high school grade levels, and sometimes teachers are even teaching multiple classes at one time. Naturally, teachers struggle to maintain organization amongst this chaos, and in the end, students opt out. Then, the electives are canceled due to lack of enrollment.
But wait, there is more; I saved the best for last! Toward the end, the administration and school board propose drastic solutions, such as eliminating all electives or cutting all non-mandated programming. By this point, the teachers and students can feel the pressure. Longtime friends and colleagues become enemies, community members become rivals, and students become divided and begin resenting the adults.
At Ripley, this was the high school experience of more than 100 students! In my opinion, no one should have this experience and by closing the door on the opportunity for a merger in Westfield, this is the legacy we would be giving our children.
As human beings, it is our obligation to ensure we have done everything in our power to prepare our future generation. As a mother, there is no price I would not pay to protect my children and ensure they have every opportunity available to them.
As a stakeholder in this community, I hope you will join me in voting "yes"0 for the Brocton-Westfield merger, and yes to a brighter future for our children.
Lauren Ormsby is a Westfield resident.