By Rich Place
On Monday, the West Valley School Board discussed potential avenues to obtain information from the Ellicottville Central School District so West Valley can proceed with a pre-annexation study.
The discussion was spurred after Ellicottville school officials requested financial compensation for its staff to assemble data for the study.
Information was requested recently from Ellicottville — as well as the Springville-Griffith Institute School District — for the pre-annexation study being conducted by Castallo & Silky LLC Education Consultants, which West Valley chose in late October.
West Valley School Board president Stephen Kowalski said he, along with vice president Kimberly Cizdziel and superintendent Eric Lawton, met Nov. 30 with Ellicottville superintendent Bob Miller and three of its school board members about the study. At its November meeting, Ellicottville School Board members had expressed desire for such a meeting to obtain a better understanding of the study’s purpose.
At the Monday meeting, Lawton paraphrased an email he received from Miller, stating information from Ellicottville pertaining to the financial implications of an annexation would be provided if two Ellicottville school employees would be paid to gather the information outside regular school hours.
Miller on Tuesday confirmed the email, and stated, “we did, indeed, ask West Valley to pay staff that had to work extra hours to assemble information.” He also noted the request was for a maximum of $350 per person.
Kowalski during the board meeting on Monday added they were seeking approximately $350 each.
“Basically what they said is that they were willing to participate but they felt the time to do it was precious and their people had a lot of work to do just to get through what they are doing,” Lawton said. “If we are willing to pay them to come in on a Saturday and gather the information, they would do that for us.”
Kowalski said it’s a “really, really gray area” for the school district to pay Ellicottville directly, but it was suggested Lawton talk to officials at Castallo & Silky and, if the cost is not included in the overall study, it be added as a contract modification.
However, both Kowalski and Cizdziel noted what they felt was a lack of interest overall in the study from Ellicottville school officials present at that Nov. 30 meeting.
“They were really clear and adamant that they were not interested when we met with them,” Cizdziel said.
“I get that, but I was in meetings with them two years ago when they were extremely adamant that they were interested,” added Brad Frank, another West Valley board member. “So I think things can swing both directions.”
It was also suggested the district could use the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) to obtain some of the information from Ellicottville, but Lawton said West Valley would not get a lot of information it’s looking for. Lawton also suggested researching ECS’s school website to obtain some of the information.
Lawton also expressed his concern over potentially paying Ellicottville to obtain the information for the study after already obtaining the information from Springville.
“That’s kind of a slap in the face to Springville in my mind, too, in a way, because they gathered it all and had it to us in the first meeting,” he told the board.
Three members of the public spoke during the public comment period of the meeting including John Zerfas, who also spoke to the Ellicottville School Board at its meeting last Tuesday. On Monday, he expressed frustration to the West Valley School Board over the lack of discussion about the pre-annexation study at public forums. He was elected in November to serve as a councilman on the Ellicottville Town Board but lives in the West Valley School District.
Bill Heim, a business owner in the community and member of the Ashford Town Board, spoke up about the impact school taxes have on local businesses.
“I’ve talked to every business person here, and to me, common sense tells me this school should have been gone five years ago,” he said. “I don’t know the nuts and bolts of how you are going to do that, but I do know it’s got to go. We can’t support it.”
In other business at the meeting, it was announced Frank was resigning from the school board due to military obligations, Kowalski said. A board consensus was reached to leave the seat open until a May election, given the spot was already scheduled to be up for election with his term ending at the conclusion of the school year.
The school board also approved the Class of 2018’s senior trip to Clearwater, Fla. following a presentation by three class officers. The class will spend June 16 to 21 on the trip before returning for commencement rehearsal on June 22 and commencement on June 23.