WESTPORT — Future staffing of Elizabethtown-Lewis and Westport school districts was examined at a recent Merger Committee meeting.
That might be one of the more contentious concerns in a possible merger of the two schools.
Before the meeting, Westport Interim Superintendent A. Paul Scott conducted a tour of his school’s bus garage.
It was mentioned that even though the garage has doors at both ends, one generally can’t be used due to the lack of parking space outside.
Having to raise his voice to overcome the roar of a recently installed heating unit, Scott warned the group not to get too close to the open grease pit.
He explained that Westport Central at times utilizes the lift in the ELCS garage.
“There is the need for extensive maintenance, and we are on a hold-on basis,” Scott said.
The heater replacement cost $7,000 to $8,000.
The meeting, under the direction of Bill Silky and Alan Pole of Castallo & Silky LLC- Education Consultants, mostly focused on their findings on current and possible future staffing at the two schools.
But first, finishing business from the last meeting, which centered on transportation, a new option for daily bus routes was presented. It features two runs: an earlier one for junior and senior high students and a later one for the elementary schools.
Another scenario will be presented at the next meeting.
Pole explained why staffing is a big factor in merger discussions.
"When you look at any school budget, 70 percent is for salaries and fringe benefits. We found that both of these contracts are more similar than different.
"Negotiations for a new contract are rarely easy. Will that be a huge undertaking? We know the health-insurance rate is going up.”
The synopsis of current staffing, with average salary in parenthesis, is:
Clerical: Four people at ELCS ($32,062), three at WCS ($40,107).
Teachers: 34 at ELCS ($59,646), 28.5 at WCS ($62,191).
Teaching assistants: Six at ELCS ($28,931), four at WCS ($31,149).
Teacher aides: Four at ELCS ($14,559), two at WCS ($19,374).
Transportation/custodial: 10 at ELCS (29,543), six at WCS ($35,029).
It was pointed out some of the figures may be higher or lower due to longevity of the employees.
An extensive teacher-contract comparison showed that both schools had similar contracts.
The exceptions noted were: ELCS allows a sabbatical leave and bereavement days and has a retirement incentive, and WCS allows $150 a year in a flexible-spending account.
A salary comparison gave these ranges:
Teachers with a bachelor’s degree: ELCS ($37,632 to $70, 694), WCS ($42,341 to $73,558).
Teachers with a master’s degree: ELCS ($39,618 to $72,898), WCS ($46,921 to $78,138).
Teachers with a master’s degree plus 30 graduate hours: ELCS ($41,982 to $75,700), WCS ($50,181 to $81,398).
ELCS is currently in negotiations for a new contract, so figures may change.
It was noted that the actual cost per teacher is about 45 percent higher due to fringe expenses such as insurance, Social Security, Workers Compensation, etc.
A discussion ensued as to what would happen with salaries should a merger take place, with the conclusion that most likely the salaries in the lower-paying school would level up.
This could be done immediately or over a period of perhaps four years.
At current rates, the cost to level up teachers would be an additional $185,131.
“We do our studies in a conservative manner," Pole said. "We assume it (the leveling up) will happen right away."
Another factor considered was the potential number of class reductions, with a conservative estimate of 26.
Two options could be considered: reducing staff or introducing new courses.
If staff reduction is desired, it could be through involuntary reductions or through attrition.
“Our recommendation is attrition,” Pole said.
The status of the superintendent positions was discussed.
Currently, WCS has an interim superintendent, and Scott quipped, “I can make an honorable return to retirement.”
As for the new district, ELCS Superintendent Scott Osborne could be considered or a new person chosen. However, the new board would have to honor the terms of Osborne’s contract, which runs to June 30, 2020.
When examining the savings of administrative and supervisory salaries and benefits, a net savings would come to $220,400.
“Essentially, you would reduce staff and savings come from efficiencies," Pole said. "This is a recurrent savings and more on this will be discussed at our next meeting."
The overall financial implications of staffing changes after the leveling-up process would result in a net savings of $255,832.
“Again, we are being conservative,” Pole said.
“Legally what happens is all contracts become null and void, and a whole new contract is negotiated,” Silky added.
He introduced the term “economy of scale.”
“Considering the ideal size of a high school to be between 600 and 800 students, as you become closer to this ideal, you become more efficient. An economist would agree with this.”
Committee member Sam Sherman inquired about WCS’s tax rate going up, as its levy is less than that of ELCS.
“We make the assumption that the lower amount will not go up," Silky answered. "This will be presented at the next meeting."
The current number of study halls was addressed, as many students have two or three per day.
Silky responded, “Clearly, you will add courses.”
Pole agreed, saying, “We are all about additional opportunities for the kids.”
“We have had to cut staff (in the past)," Osborne said, "And now we can put back some of the neat things we have lost in a school day.”
Another possible benefit of merger is more flexible scheduling and thus maybe having two sections of French 2, for example.
“It will be much easier to schedule at the same cost," ELCS K-12 Principal Rob Witkiewicz said.
"The school would be a little bigger, but it is not a big school.”
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The merger process was initiated May 2014 at a joint meeting of the Elizabethtown-Lewis and Westport school boards.
During the past year, meetings have focused on organization, an overview of the process, transportation and the facilities at each district.
Tours of the schools have been held.
ELCS phys-ed teacher and Merger Committee member Paul Buehler plans to visit the merged Chatauqua Lake and Mayville school districts to acquire additional information.
Anyone who has questions about their merger that Buehler can address may contact him at email@example.com.
The next Merger Committee meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 28 at ELCS, will discuss finances.
A review of the findings and recommendations, as well as reactions to the final draft, is scheduled for April 25.