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Cheektowaga residents who attended Monday’s joint school forum learned much about the perilous budget scenarios the town’s four districts are in. They also learned that merging the districts might not be the silver bullet they’re looking for.

The forum, highlighted by a presentation by Rick Timbs of the Statewide School Finance Consortium, suggested consolidating four school districts – Cheektowaga Central, Cleveland Hill, Maryvale and Sloan – could cause as many problems as it would solve. The four districts did agree to pursue funding for a state efficiency study to examine the issue.

“People left with an understanding of the implications of it,” Cleveland Hill Superintendent Jon MacSwan said of merging school districts. “We need to really take a look at the facts. We can’t make that decision until we finish the study.”

Maryvale Superintendent Deborah Ziolkowski thought it was a productive meeting and talked to the people who attended the forum. She has heard both positive and negative reaction to the idea of consolidating Cheektowaga schools.

“There’s a large feeling about the consolidation,” she said. “It’s a long process, but we need to do something so we can save this generation of students and give them the same opportunities previous generations of students had.”

MacSwan said, “The feedback we have had has been overwhelmingly positive. If it did anything, it showed us to not move forward with haste but to make sure we make informed decisions.”

The four districts named Cheektowaga Central as the lead agency in the grant application process. Administrators are now crafting a resolution for all four school boards in the town to approve applying for the efficiency grant.

Following Monday’s forum, State Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, issued a statement urging the districts to work together to examine potential cost savings and consolidation.

“However you feel about the issue of school consolidation, we can all agree the leaders of our schools must keep an open mind and take steps to improve efficiencies and ensure our schools remain solvent,” Kennedy said. “It’s going to take continued innovative thinking and hard work to further streamline operations, protect educational opportunities for kids and keep costs down for taxpayers.”

Ziolkowski is appreciative of Kennedy’s enthusiasm. She said the districts would ask both Kennedy and Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak, D-Cheektowaga, to write letters of recommendation for the efficiency grant application.

“We’re going to need all the support we can get,” the Maryvale superintendent said.