By Rich Place
The Ellicottville School Board of Education on Tuesday declined to participate in a pre-annexation study with the West Valley Central School District.
A message about recent communication between the two neighboring districts was delivered in a two-minute prepared statement read by Ellicottville school board president Connie Hellwig on behalf of the board. There was no other comment made about the topic during the meeting.
“Perhaps in the future, we may be in a position to join in a comprehensive annexation study, but we politely decline to participate any further in the West Valley study at this time,” Hellwig said in the statement.
The decision comes after West Valley school officials in mid-autumn requested information from Ellicottville for its pre-annexation study. West Valley also requested similar information from neighboring Springville-Griffith Institute, a request that was fulfilled, according to West Valley Superintendent Eric Lawton.
At its December meeting, the West Valley School Board was informed by Lawton that Ellicottville had requested compensation to obtain the information. Ellicottville Superintendent Bob Miller confirmed the request, which he said was for two people for a maximum of $350 per person.
“Once we received the documents from Costello & Silky LLC, whom West Valley hired to conduct the study, it seemed to us they were requesting some very detailed information for a pre-annexation study,” Hellwig said in the statement. “This document was several pages long, with 46 complex questions.”
The Ellicottville School Board in November discussed meeting with officials from West Valley to obtain more information about the study. A meeting was held Nov. 30 with three members of the Ellicottville School Board, Lawton and West Valley School Board president Stephen Kowalski and vice president Kimberly Cizdziel, according to Kowalski.
“During our meeting with the West Valley superintendent and their board president and vice president, it became clear to us that both districts lacked interest in any annexation plan at this time,” Hellwig said in the statement.
At the December school board meeting in West Valley, both Kowalski and Cizdziel had noted what they felt was a lack of interest overall from Ellicottville school officials at that meeting.
In the statement, Hellwig on Tuesday went on to stress the importance of focusing the Ellicottville school district’s time and effort on its own district.
“Therefore, as our responsibility is to our ECS school taxpayers and students, we will spend our time and resources concentrating on our home district and continue to embrace change, celebrate success and surpass expectations,” she said. “Our district is in a healthy condition right now. Our enrollment is up, our financial status is strong, we are exceeding state and national standards academically and we have a strong participation and achievement in extracurricular activities.”
The statement comes a day after the West Valley School Board’s regular meeting, during which Lawton had informed the board the district proceeded on its own to obtain information from Ellicottville for the study.
Lawton said business official Ann O’Brien and Dr. William Silky, director of the education consulting form, gathered the requested financial information.
Also at the West Valley meeting on Monday, former school board president Michael Frascella spoke for about six minutes as a member of the public, thanking the board repeatedly for the opportunities it has allowed his children in academics and sports and also commenting on the pre-annexation study.
“Thanks for starting up talks again with both districts,” he told the board. “That’s what I wanted two years ago. That’s something that is very important to see where we’re at … you have to put all the cards on the table.”
Frascella applauded the school board for choosing to request information in the pre-annexation study from both neighboring districts, stating “you want all the information on the table to make an educated decision what is best for our district and our kids.”
He also said the sports merger with Ellicottville, which began in the 2015-16 school year, has had a positive impact on his children.
“My kids have made a lot of friends in Ellicottville, my kids still love West Valley,” Frascella said. “My kids still want to be here. I still want my kids to be here. I just appreciate the opportunity they have right now.”
The West Valley School Board initiated the pre-annexation study in late October after approving Costello & Silky LLC to lead the effort. The two districts involved — Ellicottville and Springville-Griffith Institute — are direct neighbors to West Valley’s southern and northern borders, respectively.