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Residents meet on plan to merge districts

About 200 residents of the Fredonia Central School District met during a special meeting Tuesday night on the proposed merger of Fredonia and Brocton districts.

Fredonia Superintendent Paul DiFonzo said that even if the merger does not go through, the Fredonia system will experience change, with continued program and staff decreases as student enrollment continues to drop in the face of increasing costs.

DiFonzo said the current Fredonia senior class totals 174 students, with eighth-graders numbering 130, and 81 kindergartners. He also noted the federal stimulus money the district is now using to pay staff will be gone in the 2010-11 year.

"Centralization will amount to change," he said. "The Fredonia district is changing right now. Change can either be forced or we can take some control over it on behalf of our students and our community."

"If we don't look at this opportunity [centralization], where are we going to go down the road?" he asked later on.

DiFonzo and Joseph Reyda, district director of instruction and information, gave an overview of the centralization feasibility study. They stressed that they were only highlighting a variety of important points and that all district residents should read the complete study at www.schoolstudy.wnyric.org. Hard copies also are available in public libraries. DiFonzo asked anyone who had questions after reading the study to contact his or her school district's office for answers.

Asked about how transportation would be arranged for students in the merged district, DiFonzo said that depends on which one of five facility-use arrangements would be selected. He said he hopes the two district boards will meet in October to begin to determine which of the five options will be the one presented in a future nonbinding vote on the centralization proposal.

There will be a vote in each of the two communities. For the merger proposal to continue to move ahead after that vote, each community must have a majority vote in support of centralization. The final binding vote would be arranged by the state commissioner of education.

DiFonzo and Reyda went over how a new centralized district would gain additional state funding to reorganize and begin its operations. A total of $30.7 million in funds on top of the normal funding the district would receive would be realized. For the first five years, the new district would get an extra $3 million a year.

DiFonzo said the merged district would experience large savings in staffing and building operation and maintenance costs. Should the Wheelock School close, for example, there would be an estimated $500,000 in annual savings due to administration, nonteaching personnel reductions and cleaning and utility costs.

The overview showed that from the 2004-05 school year to 2008-09, enrollment is projected to drop in the Brocton District by 153 students, or 21.3 percent, and in the Fredonia District by 222 students, or 12.6 percent.

Should the merger occur, a new school district would be formed and a new board would have authority and responsibility to engage in contract negotiations with all employee groups. Until then, previous contracts would apply.

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