Tonawanda News — Representatives from the Niagara USA Chamber of Commerce believe the time is right for school districts in Niagara County to consider greater sharing of services and, perhaps, consolidation.
In a release issued Friday, chamber officials said, in light of this week’s defeat of three area school budgets, education officials should start looking at ways to address their fundamental cost centers.
“Each year, we cannot continue to face the difficult choice of either big tax increases or investing in our classrooms,” said Chris Boron, the chamber’s new chairperson. “The long-term solution is some measure of consolidation and shared services.”
The release follows Tuesday’s school budget votes and school board elections. Three area districts saw their proposed spending plans defeated, including Wilson, Lewiston-Porter and Niagara-Wheatfield, which had the smallest margin of defeat with just three votes.
While acknowledging school consolidation as a “very emotional issue,” Boron said it does not have to mean full merger of school districts.
“Too often consolidation is immediately assumed to be merger of school districts,” Boron said. “But consolidation can mean sharing business officers or athletic directors, looking for different ways to deliver special education services or sharing staff. We need to unlock creativity to find a way to deliver excellence in a more efficient manner.”
Boron said chamber board members recognize school districts in Niagara County have done quite a bit to tighten their operations, but said with declining enrollment and state mandates, consolidation efforts might be the only way to further reduce costs.
“Without restructuring how services are delivered, the only choice is to just cut - cut music, cut art, cut sports, etc.,” Boron said. “Eventually there is nothing left to cut and the students suffer. Consolidation means looking at other districts and asking can I combine some areas so needs are being met but costs go down.”
Kory Schuler, director of government affairs for the chamber, said the business advocacy group will be reaching out to school districts to determine their level of interest in consolidation and shared services and hopefully convene a discussion on the topic.
“We want to start a conversation that needs to happen and hope there is interest from school districts to participate,” Schuler said.