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Ripley, Westfield differ on merger

Residents of Ripley and Westfield school districts cast ballots Thursday in an advisory referendum on a proposal to merge the two districts.

Voters in Westfield voted 614 to 385 in opposition to centralization, while voters in Ripley voted 346 to 61 in support of centralization.

Whether a referendum results from Thursday's straw vote is in the hands of the state education commissioner, who will weigh the results of Thursday's straw vote.

"I recommend both boards engage their communities and stakeholders in discussions about the future of education in their communities," said Superintendent Robert Guiffreda of Erie 2 Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES after releasing the vote results.

The straw vote was designed to gauge support on whether to move forward with a formal referendum to centralize. The boards of both districts authorized a centralization feasibility study more than a year ago.

Superintendents of both districts agreed the outcome of Thursday's vote will not end discussions on how rural school districts can provide educational opportunities and be fiscally responsible.

"The outcome of the vote is disappointing," Westfield Superintendent Mark D. Sissel said. "In the weeks to come, the Westfield board will be looking for ways to continue to provide educational opportunities for our students despite declining enrollment, reduced funding, increased costs and tax base limitations."

John Hogan, Ripley's interim superintendent, conceded that he, too was disappointed.

"In the coming days, our board will be discussing the future course for our district and our students," he said. "I know our board will look at ways to best serve our students and our school community."

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