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School Board to continue talks on combined district

The Ellicottville School Board will return to the topic of the proposed annexation of West Valley Central School District during a meeting tonight.

The board last week postponed approving an April 4 straw poll of residents and rejected a list of assurances that are part of the reorganization feasibility study, completed this winter by consultants with the help of several committees representing both districts.

In an effort to clarify the list and to prevent tying the hands of future boards, they met with the West Valley School District Board on Monday. About 50 residents and committee members from both districts attended.

The assurances cover the transition to a combined district under the governance of the Ellicottville board if the annexation passes muster with both districts' voters in straw polls and then in a public referendum.

The two boards made some adjustments to relax the wording of some of the assurances, which include West Valley staffing and wage issues, pupil transportation, educational programs and board representation.

Members of both boards expressed little faith in the study's 10-year enrollment projections for a drastic drop in enrollment for both districts under two scenarios. They also agreed that both buildings should stay open while enrollment levels support having elementary schools in each community, a middle school in West Valley and a high school in Ellicottville.

After some discussion about Ellicottville's use of state incentive aid, it was decided to consider establishing a finance team to recommend the best use of the funds.

A committee member pointed out to the board that consultants refused to go to the trouble of running a computer analysis of transportation routes until after the straw vote. Ellicottville School Board President Steve Crowley promised to send an e-mail containing the final draft to be considered by his board to West Valley Superintendent Ed Ahrens. Ahrens will be expected to disseminate the list to the West Valley board.

The panel then discussed a probable compromise voting time for the straw poll, which must be conducted simultaneously in both districts. The April 4 date may change, but the tentative polling time decided upon, from 1 to 9 p.m., is a compromise between the traditional hours polls are usually open in the two districts.

The tax rate is expected to be a big issue for voters and for the large crowd that is expected to attend tonight's meeting in Ellicottville. Officials have said annexation will lower West Valley's school taxes by about 50 percent while raising Ellicottville's by 20 percent. The combined district rate is estimated to be $10.94 per $1,000 of assessed value based on 2005-06 data.

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