Americans are great value shoppers. Probably the best reason to live in Chautauqua County is the high quality of our public school education. Yet, the biggest challenge we face is the inefficient way we administer this education.
In 2013, we still had 18 separate school districts in the county. We pay each of the executives (superintendents) who run these schools an average salary of about $130,000 per year. (We have one Chautauqua County Executive who is only paid $85,000 per year.) There was one bit of recent good news relative to shrinking this educational bureaucratic overburden. The Post-Journal, on September 11, 2013, announced that the Panama and Clymer school districts would be sharing the cost of their CEO in the coming year.
Perhaps these two districts (combined they would have about 1,000 students kindergarten through 12th grades) can become the first two in recent memory to actually merge. Let's hope so. As reported on October 13th, Westfield voted down a merger with Brocton. How this could happen? There has been some speculation that there was a dispute over school colors or the name to be used for a merged sports program. (Let's hope that something as serious as properly educating our youth isn't decided by a frivolous disagreement over the names given to football or basketball teams.)
A follow-up to the newspaper report indicated that both Westfield and Brocton last year experienced student enrollment declines of 12 to 15 percent. How can a school district keep offering a good educational program when the system has less than 800 children in the school system? Parochialism often stands in the way of progress.
The report on continuing school enrollment decline noted that, with the exception of Jamestown, every school district in the county had enrolled fewer students last year than the year before. This reality cries out for the need of consolidating districts. Aside from the Panama/Clymer cooperation, there are school districts like Bemus Point and Chautauqua Lake that have merged football programs. But, the days when you can continue to run a K-12 public school program with less than 800 kids, should be coming to an end. Half of the 18 school districts in the county are educating fewer than that number of students.
For the good of students and out of concern for the efficient spending of tax dollars, we need to see school consolidations in Chautauqua County. If we want to maintain "value" in public education, this issue must be addressed.
A Chautauqua County resident interested in analyzing public policy from a long term perspective writes these views under the name Hall Elliot.