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Consolidation conversation becomes heated at meeting of joint boards of education

BY: Kimberly Snickles, Cheektowaga Source | October 31, 2012

It seemed as if a referee was needed at Monday’s joint boards of education meeting, as school districts grew very defensive against town board members.

“As far as what we’re doing here tonight, this is not the town versus school boards, this is us.” said Councilmember Stanley Kaznowski. “We need to consolidate our resources and say what is best for out children, and our tax payers. “When you say people don’t come to your meetings, I believe you, but I know our tax payers are hurting.”

Cheektowaga Sloan, Cheektowaga Central, and Maryvale School District attended a consolidation meeting hosted by Cleveland Hill. In August the town passed a resolution requesting the four districts to conduct an independent study on consolidation and mergers. Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak agreed that if each district wrote him a letter of intent to do so, he would then go to Albany to push for a grant from the state.

The majority of homeowners taxes are going to the schools, and the rate at which they must pay varies significantly depending on what school district they live in. Gabryszak and the town agree that these residents need some relief; yet some of the districts grew argumentative on the subject, stating a lack of resident participation during school board meetings.

“Where are the parents that are looking for consolidation? They’ll go talk to someone else and then someone else and say everybody is talking consolidation, but we don’t hear it, we don’t see it,” said Gary Sieczkarek, President of Cheektowaga-Sloan Board of Education.

“Take a look at this audience. We have four school districts and what do we have here. This is what our board meetings are like, no one comes to them,” said Denise McCowan, Cheektowaga-Sloan Union Free School District board member.

Councilwoman Angela Wozniak, who proposed the resolution on consolidation, said that whether the residents say it or not, they are hurting, and the issue needs to be addressed.

“You have to be proactive to find out what people are thinking and feeling. People want tax relief," she said. "We didn’t want this to be a war; we wanted to find out what we could do to expand these educational opportunities. If we can offer better opportunities to our students, even if it involves no savings, isn’t this the business that we’re in?”

The topic soon shifted to the lack of businesses in the Cheektowaga-Sloan area. Since most large businesses reside on Walden Avenue, the taxes in the Cheektowaga-Sloan area rely mainly on its residents.

“Our districts have a very high tax rate and the reason for that is obvious the lack of business,” said McCowan. “Cheektowaga is constantly building businesses along Walden and Broadway, which is helping other districts.”

“I understand the frustrations of the districts but what space can I put in a Super Walmart? It’s just the make up of the town,” said Kaznowski. “It’s their business decision where they want to locate.”

Several residents stood up in front of the districts stating “the people are tired and they can’t afford it anymore, so please consider doing the study.” Brian Gould, President of the Cheektowaga Central School District was in agreement.

“We need to get together and figure out how we can make things better for every resident in Cheektowaga,” said Gould. “I think the public has spoken and I think they want us to look at it.”

The four districts will be meeting individually to further discuss the matter, then they will hold a vote. Gabryszak stated that if there is any group interested in consolidation, he will work to get a study funded and see what the results are.

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