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IDEA OF MERGED SCHOOL DISTRICTS DRAWS OPPOSITION

Early dialogue into the possibility of merging the Depew and Lancaster school districts drew the ire of many of the nearly 90 people at the Depew School Board's meeting Thursday.

Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra, who also attended, said that this is to be expected early on but that he is pleased that there were community members willing to at least lend their ears to the discussion.

"It's encouraging to see the people are willing to discuss it. It's a very sensitive and emotional issue," Giambra said.

The county executive along with Lancaster School Board Member Georgette F. Pelletterie and the Depew School Board held a brief dialogue regarding consolidation. The meeting was forced from the boardroom into the gymnasium of the Terrace Boulevard building to accommodate the large turnout.

"It sounds to me that bigger isn't always better," said Maureen Mineo, a district transportation worker and parent of two Depew graduates. "Lancaster has been growing and growing and growing. If getting bigger saves taxes, why hasn't Lancaster seen that yet?

"I fail to see how anything will be saved. We don't need more schools in Depew. Lancaster needs them; we're doing OK."

Mineo received a rousing ovation.

The possible consolidation between the 5,600-student Lancaster and the 2,700-student Depew districts arose in April at a Lancaster School Board meeting when the board voted to form a task force to examine the idea, Pelletterie said.

"We're not going to wipe Depew off of the map; we're just trying to see if it's viable. It may not be viable," Pelletterie said.

The start of such a study is awaiting the results of an Oct. 26 meeting between the school boards from both districts and a representative from the State Education Department. The public meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services headquarters, 355 Harlem Road, West Seneca.

If both districts agree that a study into a possible consolidation should be undertaken, Giambra has pledged county funds to pay for it.

"It's my responsibility as the regional leader to engage people in these discussions. I'm willing to provide additional resources if both districts want to have more information," Giambra said.

The county executive acknowledged that the chief impediment to a merger is emotion -- about school pride, school colors and a school's mascot. But according to the county executive, those things do not have to change.

Ultimately, any decision to merge districts resides with the public. Residents from both districts would need to approve the measure in a public referendum. Even if consolidation does not occur, Giambra said, this dialogue opens up avenues for future progress on interdistrict service and collaborative purchasing.

Whatever the case, the idea remains in its infancy, said Depew School Superintendent Robert D. Olczak. Any process toward consolidation would begin only if a study were undertaken and indicated that it was in both districts' interest to do so, he reiterated.

"We have an obligation to consider providing a better education to our kids at the most cost-effective manner to our taxpayers," Olczak said. "We'd look at the ramifications (of consolidation) both pro and con, but the final step would require a public referendum from both communities."

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