WESTPORT — Superintendents and school boards from Elizabethtown-Lewis and Westport central schools held a joint forum to explore shared services.
In addition to Westport Central Superintendent John Gallagher and ELCS Superintendent Scott Osborne, Champlain Valley Educational Services District Superintendent Mark Davey was present to provide insight to board members and about 25 attendees.
Gallagher, who has been at the helm at Westport as a part-time superintendent since 2008, said: “We have had serious discussions and have had opportunities to share.”
“Each district has its story," Osborne said in his opening remarks. "...It’s our due diligence to look at the whole picture.”
NO MERGER TALK
It was emphasized several times during the meeting that the schools were discussing shared services only, not a merger, though Gallagher said that might be considered, at some point.
In 2013, six school mergers were attempted in New York state, but none passed in referendums. Davey noted that mergers require the closing of one or more of the schools.
ASSESSING WHAT THEY HAVE
Osborne indicated that both schools have similar logistical challenges, such as declining enrollment, dealing with the state tax cap and the governor’s property-tax freeze.
At last fall's count, Westport registered 230 students, while ELCS had 258.
Gallagher discussed commonalities such as the recently coordinated bell schedule, similar master schedules and that both schools have pulled their lunch programs out of the red.
“We are still looking at shared course offerings and advanced placement classes,” said Gallagher.
Westport and Elizabethtown-Lewis already share a business officer, as well as professional development and test scoring through the auspices of BOCES.
There are also itinerant services, such as school psychologists and music teachers, that have been part time at participating facilities.
Both schools utilize the School Tool student data system, have a shared CVES labor-relations specialist and independent auditor and have the same state inspector for their vehicles.
They both employ one teacher per grade level for the elementary schools.
In sports, the modified baseball and softball programs merged this season. The EKMW track team (with Keene and Moriah) has been touted for years as a paradigm of cooperation.
Discussion ensued as to sharing faculty.
“I want to know who is going to teach in my school,” said Gallagher.
ELCS School Board member Nick Disogra added, “I am uncomfortable using a teacher as a commodity.”
As to who might be hired for shared positions, Davey responded that it would ultimately be the decision of BOCES and that they generally would consider a person who had been let go due to a reduction in staff.
Perhaps the most discussed option is the sharing of superintendents, with each school maintaining an onsite principal. Other shared positions might be a transportation director, director of student services and Committee on Special Education chair.
“We need to share and save money, but need to give the best education, such as advance placement and possibly offer an associate’s degree," WCS School Board member Dwayne Stevens said.
"This would save the kids and their parents a whole boatload of money. I can give two diddles what Albany wants.”
“We need to go into this with our eyes wide open,” Davey said.
ELCS School Board member Karin DeMuro said, “It’s our job to do everything possible, and we should keep these talks going. We have to depend on each other or we will not have a future.”
During the public-comment session, Jessica Storey said they should "reinstate instead of losing teachers and provide more opportunities. This is the best that can happen out of this.”
“What brings people and families here is looking at the School District," Jayson Fiegl said. "We should also align with the businesses. I commend the boards for looking into this.”
Recently elected ELCS School Board member and parent Doug Spilling discussed the uses of technology as he "traveled the world" from his office in Elizabethtown.
“We live in this beautiful place, and technology gives us the opportunity to be here and work. We are charged with what students will need in 20 years.”
Both boards plan to discuss some of the options at their regular June meetings and then convene again together at some future date.
It was also suggested that a consultant be hired to look at shared-services possibilities.
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