CHEEKTOWAGA – Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz held a town hall meeting to discuss his administration’s report on school district consolidations in Cheektowaga Tuesday night, but after he delivered his report, instead of an open dialogue, several superintendents, school board members, and residents lectured him on several reasons why his report was misguided.
“People who are opposed to the idea have become a little bit more organized, but you also heard from some people who say maybe this is a good thing we need to do. I’m not surprised. You never get 100% support on anything in government,” said Mr. Poloncarz.
The county executive’s presentation at Julia Boyer Reinstein Library was attended by at least 50 people. Cleveland Hill Superintendent Jon MacSwan and Depew Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Rabey both read from prepared statements stating their disappointment that the Poloncarz administration didn’t meet with the school district before composing the report and questioned the accuracy of the report based on the financial numbers used.
“The numbers came straight from the school district budgets so if there is a discrepancy, its based on their budget,” Mr. Poloncarz said. “They take personal offense. I’m not saying they’re doing a bad job. I’m just saying maybe there is a way they could do a better job going forward.”
Mr. Poloncarz’s most significant sticking point is that there are eight school districts servicing the Town of Cheektowaga – the five major ones and three smaller ones on our border; Williamsville, West Seneca, and Lancaster.
“What we wanted to say was you don’t have to continue to have eight school districts that service the entire Town of Cheektowaga. Maybe go down to seven, maybe go down to six, maybe you merge all the five major ones. There are ways it could potentially be done better, and that’s what we wanted to do was have a conversation. Now it’s in the hands of the people to say this is something we want,” added Mr. Poloncarz.
The next step will be to get Erie County’s school districts into the same room to talk with one another about potential savings.
“We’ve invited the school district representatives. We hope they all come. If they don’t, I’m disappointed because they have an opportunity in which to find ways to do a little better, save some money, and potentially get some additional state aid,” added Mr. Poloncarz.
Currently, school districts are forced to locally fund nearly 90 state and federal mandates that school districts are required to follow. These “unfunded mandates” pose major issues for local school district across Erie County. Mr. MacSwan said one of the state mandates – Charter School Funding – requires his school district to pay $10,000 for each student in Cleveland Hill’s School District that attends a charter school. Mr. Poloncarz says the state could do a better job.
“We’re in a situation where we have the tax cap in place, and the tax cap requires the school district to stay at or below the tax cap or requires a supermajority vote which is very difficult to get. My view is if the state is going to keep passing on mandates well then they should increase the percentage of sharing so that these school districts and local residents don’t have to pay for it out of their own pocket,” Mr. Poloncarz said.