ELIZABETHTOWN — In separate meetings, the top leaders of Elizabethtown-Lewis and Westport central schools expressed support for merger.
ELCS Superintendent Scott Osborne and Westport Interim Superintendent A. Paul Scott communicated to their school boards and the public their perceptions.
Both have similar views on what the districts would be like with or without a merger:
Without combining, student enrollments most likely would continue to decline.
Both schools have lost programs that might be reinstated, or even expanded, with a merger.
Major renovations are needed by both districts to their main buildings and bus garages. If merged, about 90 percent of construction costs would be compensated. Without merger, large amounts of fund balance would have to be utilized.
'MORE THAN MONEY'
“Everyone knows I am pro merger,” said Osborne, who has served as superintendent at both schools. "Now it’s time to talk turkey and articulate to the community.
“Our districts have changed much since I was principal here (ELCS) 10 years ago. This is more than just a money benefit. We need to plan for sustainability.
"The fact is our taxes may not drop, but at least they will stabilize.”
Osborne referred to the community discussions that took place 80 years earlier, when Elizabethtown and Lewis schools were considering merger.
“And here we are again. No one wants to eliminate the Lions. Efficiency and sustainability are now in question.
"I enjoy seeing high school students, but I don’t enjoy seeing them because they have four study halls a day.”
(ELCS and WCS combined soccer and baseball teams several years ago to form the Griffins. In addition, schools have participated with Keene and Moriah as the EKMW Emus track team for more than 15 years.)
Scott noted that he has served as interim superintendent at both Westport and Elizabethtown-Lewis.
"Both schools enroll far fewer students than prior decades," he said. "Both schools strive to be supportive learning environments.
"If Westport CSD and Elizabethtown CSD merged, that merged district would be in a strong position to restore high-interest instructional programs, student clubs, extra-curricular activities and academic electives that were the casualties of budget reductions due to insufficient monies to sustain those program elements.”
Like Osborne, Scott predicted a rough future without merger.
“The financial footings of both school districts will be further stressed in the years ahead if the two schools continue to operate independently. Forecasted cost increases outstrip forecasted revenues.
"Continued reductions to curriculum and program staffing are highly likely, as part of balancing income with expenditures.”
Scott said that if he lived in either community, he would support merger.
"Why? Because if I was a resident of either district, I would focus on the capacity of the merged district to experience the enviable position of having a 15-year window of time to receive substantial additional state aid monies to support public education, bolster programs and services and help stabilize or lower tax rates, while simultaneously establishing reserve funds to sustain good financial footings for school year 2034 forward.
"A merged district would offer substantially greater capacity to sustain into the future the best of what the two school districts currently provide.”
ELCS School Board member Alan Jones said it is clear that “the writing is on the wall.”
Josh Olcott, a parent with students in both schools, said: “It concerns me that people will be voting that have no information.”
Parent Arin Burdo said it's currently "discouraging that the taxes are going up and the programs are being reduced. This is one more reason to consider a merger.”
A review of the findings and recommendations garnered from the merger committee meetings as well as reactions to the final draft is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 25, in the Westport Central School auditorium.
People with questions can also stop in at either school’s main office.