WESTFIELD - As the process of studying the feasibility of a consolidation between the Westfield Academy and Central School and Brocton Central School Districts winds down, the process of creating Westfield's budget for the 2013-14 school year winds up.
A joint meeting of the two Boards of Education will be held on Wednesday, March 20 in the Brocton auditorium at 6 p.m. The consulting firm of Western New York Educational Service Council with Robert Christmann, David and Marilyn Kurzawa and Thomas Schmidt, and the assistance of Bren Price, Sr., will present its findings and recommendations regarding the consolidation of the two districts at this meeting, which is open to the public.
In preparation for budget talks, WACS Business Manager and District Clerk Al Holbrook informed the board on Monday, Feb. 11 that the estimated employer contribution rate of teachers salaries required of the district to fund the New York State Teacher's Retirement System, or TRS, will be 16.25 percent in 2013-14.
Photo by Jenna Loughlin
Westfield Academy and Central School Board of Education member Marie Edwards, left, was presented with a plaque at a recent board meeting by WACS Superintendent David Davison, right, for 75 hours of service to the community.
Holbrook said the district has the option to pay what the rate is each year, or it could lock in a rate for forever, which would be reviewable every five years. He has always taken the approach of not hamstringing future school boards and taxpayers by locking in the rate, which would be 12.5 percent if the board chose to do so.
"If you look at this over the years, if you go with the actual rate determined by the state, the district is better off in the long run," Holbrook said.
With the new tax cap law, if ERS and TRS go up above 2 percent, the district can count those as exclusions toward the tax cap calculations. If the board sticks with the 16.25 percent rate for next school year, TRS would be a significant exclusion. However, if the board locks in at 12.5 percent, the amount would not be high enough to count as an exclusion.
"So our expense goes down, but the exclusion also goes down," Holbrook said.
Board member Francine Brown asked if any of these rates are negotiable. Holbrook responded the rates are set by the state, and that the state deducts the district's TRS contribution directly from WACS' state aid.
Board President Jeffrey Greabell said as he looks at the rate over the years, he thinks the district should continue to take the rate year by year. Superintendent David Davison also pointed out it is not yet certain if the state will offer the 12.5 percent or not.
Board Vice President Steve Cockram asked what the teacher contribution to TRS is. Holbrook responded it depends on what tier the teacher is, with those who have been teaching over 10 years no longer contributing.
Also discussed at the meeting was reducing the number of seats on the WACS Board of Education, which was a ballot proposition passed by the voters during last year's budget vote. Davison reminded the board of how the seats will be reduced from nine to seven over the next three years.
The schedule will be as follows: in May 2013 there will be three seats up for election, but only one will be filled for a three year term, bringing the number of total seats to seven; in May of 2014 there will be three seats up for election, but two of the seats will be for three year terms and one seat will be for a two year term; in May of 2015 there will be three seats up for election and all three will be for three year terms. From there, there will be two seats open in May 2016, two seats open in May 2017 and three seats open in May 2018, all for three year terms.
Also at the Feb. 11 meeting, the board approved a resolution authorizing Davidson to serve as a district representative and contact person to work with BCS to seek funding for a comprehensive study of reorganization and related referendum expenses of a centralization of the two districts. Cockram asked if there was any benefit of being the lead district, to which Davidson replied no, other than having to do all the work.
The board also passed a resolution casting its ballot for Edith Byrne of Fredonia, Sylvester Cleary of Forestville, Joseph DiMaio of Jamestown, Martha Howard of Silver Creek and Norman Upperman of Clymer for three-year terms to the Chautauqua County School Boards Association Executive Committee as well as for Byrne as President, Gary DeLillis of Sherman as First Vice President and Sylvester Upperman of Clymer as Second Vice President. The resolution also approved the amendments to the CCSBA Constitution and By-Laws.
During board member commentary, Cockram said he was getting a lot of questions about the merger, with people saying they hadn't heard anything in a while. He suggested this is the time when marketing should begin. Davison noted the next edition of the "Wolverine" will have an article updating people about the process.
At the Board of Education's meeting on Monday, Jan. 28, board member Marie Edwards was presented with a plaque by Davison for 75 hours of service to the community.
"On behalf of the school community, the parents, the students, the teachers, the staff, administration and the board, I want to thank you for your dedication to this community and to our school," Davison said.
She was thanked by those in attendance with a round of applause.
During the discussion items portion of the meeting, Edwards relayed what was talked about at the legislative breakfast held in January. Most of the questions being asked of New York State Assemblyman Andrew Goodell and New York State Senator Catharine Young at the breakfast were along the lines of what can districts do when the state is decreasing, or at least not increasing, its aid, and also how can districts better forecast state aid, Edwards reported.
She also said there is still no clear answer from the state as to how to handle school insolvency. There was also talk about the Governor's State of the State speech where he mentioned mergers, regional high schools, longer school days and funding pre-kindergarten. Edwards brought up the disconnect between the fact that districts are talking about cutting kindergarten, which is non-mandated, and the Governor is talking about funding pre-kindergarten.
"We think they know what position we're in, but we need to constantly communicate with (our state politicians) so that they understand how close we are to the edge of financial insolvency and educational insolvency," Edwards said.
Edwards noted Lobby Day will be Sunday, March 10 and Monday, March 11 in Albany and that it would be great if WACS could get some people to attend.
Greabell added to Edwards' report by mentioning the downstate districts are not facing the same problems, so the leadership from there does not understand the financial problems of upstate schools. Cockram added Young's "grand accomplishment" was to skew the formula for so lower wealth districts received more state aid.
The BOCES annual meeting and component district vote date has been set for Tuesday, April 23. Since the WACS Board of Education must meet that night to vote, the board moved its meeting scheduled for Monday, April 22 to the following night.
Also at the Jan. 28 meeting, Cockram reported on the Merger Advisory Committee's fifth and final meeting where members received financial headcount data, took building tours and looked at room counts and room sizes. With all the data, the committee was asked what it thought the number of administration positions should be, what student to teacher ratios should be and the best configuration of where students attend class. For ratios, Cockram said in general members were recommending 20:1 for elementary, 20:1 for middle school and 22:1 for high school. As far as the configuration, about one third of the members thought there should be elementary schools in both buildings, middle school in one building and high school in another. About half the group thought all the elementary classes should be in one building and the middle and high school classes should be in the other. The rest of the members thought kindergarten through 12 should all be in one building, and the other building should be closed. What was not discussed in any of the situations was which building would be which.
As far as next steps, the two boards will make a final decision in May after the final report is released at the end of March. If approved by the boards, the community would vote in June and, if the proposition passes, again in October.
In his report at the Jan. 28 meeting, Davison said he learned at the new superintendent's workshop he attended seven of the 31 districts with new superintendents are looking into consolidation.
During her report Elementary Principal Shanda DuClon reported the Westfield Teacher's Association's Circle of Friends concert raised over $4,500 for Aili Makuch's family, an "impressive amount of money," according to Greabell. Secondary Principal Ivana Hite reported 63 percent of middle school and 51 percent of high school students made the merit or honor rolls for the first marking period. Greabell commended Hite and the staff on the high percentages.
During public comment, Brocton resident Bobby Wise asked what initiatives the district is taking on anti-bullying. Hite mentioned the group Sources of Strength, having a Champions for Today assembly and Jamestown Business College's anti-bullying presentation. Wise, a 2008 BCS graduate, shared he was bullied and has now created a non-profit, anti-bullying program, which can be found at hateisugly.com. He described it as a creative way of approaching anti-bullying and is trying to team up with all the schools in Chautauqua County, maybe even making it a BOCES service.
During board member commentary, Cockram suggested making changes to the policy regarding voters submitting propositions on the school's ballot since it does not specify if such a proposition, if passed, would be binding or just an advisory referendum.
In other business,
Christopher Rickerson was approved as a certified substitute teacher for the remainder of the 2012-13 school year;
Nannette Knappenberger was approved as a certified long term substitute teacher for elementary music, effective, Monday, Jan. 7;
Kim Klaes was approved as an uncertified substitute teacher for the remainder of the 2012-13 school year, effective Thursday, Jan. 24;
Donald Eggleston was approved as a volunteer tennis coach for the 2012-13 school year;
Chelsea Froman was approved as an uncertified substitute teacher for the remainder of the 2012-13 school year, effective Tuesday, Feb. 12; and
Carol Schutt was approved as a substitute school nurse for the remainder of the 2012-13 school year, effective Tuesday, Feb. 12.