A couple years ago, I expressed my opinion, in this forum, regarding my feelings concerning the consolidation of schools, suggesting anything from merging schools, to sharing services, programs, administrators, or districts partnering with other districts. My words were met with much opposition, which included comments regarding my intelligence, my sanity, my family, and included some interesting adjectives/synonyms describing me and my ideas on this topic.
I knew when I accepted the opportunity to pen this column that, whatever the topic, there would be disagreement. After all, if everyone thought the same on every issue, the world would be a very plain, ordinary place. I'm also fairly used to some disagreeing with some of my feelings, decisions, philosophies, etc. After all, for more than 20 years I have umpired baseball on youth, high school and even a bit on college levels, so I've heard some vocalize disagreement with some of my decisions. I've also coached for many years in this area, on many levels, in a variety of sports, and have heard comments/questions about why I do this, or don't do that, or how some expectations are too harsh. I was also a teacher for more than 30 years, and there were some students and parents who didn't like some of my classroom or assignment rules and policies, so I was used to disagreements there, and I am also a parent, and in raising my children, I'm sure there were one or two times when my kids may have disagreed with some of the rules, restrictions, and can-and-cannot policies I imposed. Point being, I have no problem with people disagreeing with me.
My comments regarding school consolidation were based on my feelings that there was far too much spending, especially at the top of each district, and that starts with the superintendent position. To me, it doesn't make sense to have 18 school districts and 18 superintendents, each making more than $100,000, plus all the benefits paid for by each district to each district leader. I felt that some of the smaller districts could share a superintendent, and/or a director of special education, athletic director, financial assistant superintendent, a purchaser, a supervisor of building and grounds, and any other directors of programs or services which could be merged with other districts to save money and maximize operations of the participating districts. I feel the same with regard to neighboring communities merging, sharing services and personnel, and reducing lawmakers and administrators to balance with the reduction in population over the years.
J. Paul Lombardo
I also suggested the possible merging of athletic programs where two schools might be struggling to get enough players for one program. I even suggested the merging of districts themselves, as I believe taking two half-used buildings, filling them with what amounts to be district enrollments which have drastically decreased over the years, that combining them might allow for a possible savings of money and a maximization of space and personnel.
Many of these suggestions kind of made sense to me, especially in a county which has seen a significant decline in population, employment and economy, as the cost of living has drastically increased over the same amount of time.
I know change is difficult for some people, and I'm right there at the front of that line. I am a huge creature of habit. Probably 75 percent of the time I order the same thing in a restaurant, I like the color blue and most of my clothing includes that color. I don't like rearranging my drawers or closet, so I think it's safe to say I like things to remain constant, but there are times when I have to accept change and realize that it is necessary for the betterment of so many more than just me.
Voice From The Bullpen
Many want to keep the traditions and identity of their school district. People who grew up as a "Falcon" or a "Panther" want their kids to grow up being one too. I understand that, but see the advantage of combining two or more districts when each individual one is not functioning to the maximum, and there is room to combine, share, or partner to save money which could possibly be used for more technology, more instruction, more programs, etc.
With all of this being said, in recent months, I've seen a partnership negotiated between the Chautauqua Lake and Ripley districts. There have been talks between the Westfield and Brocton districts as to working toward a possible merger. Panama and Clymer's districts have begun talks leaning toward having one superintendent serve both districts. Over the past few years, numerous districts have combined various athletic teams to allow students opportunities to play a sport even if their school might not have enough participants, and technology now allows for distance learning to be implemented and utilized so students in one school can take advantage of a class or program offered by a neighboring school district. It appears the wheels are starting to turn, and the ball is beginning to roll, which I believe can only maximize educational, civic, athletic and social opportunities for the students of our area.
I hope the talks continue, the wheels rotate a bit faster, and all districts open their minds a little more toward what I believe will be the norm very soon. I think, in the end, the beneficiaries will be our children, our students and our communities. I also think the state will encourage more of this by adjusting state aid to districts who agree to merge, share, or partner with other districts. Kudos, from me, to those who have begun to realize the benefits that might be reaped by this move.
I saw this coming a while back, which prompted my suggestions in the piece of a couple of years ago. I only wish I was this good at picking the lottery numbers every once in a while.