School District Mergers Should Be Academic

There were a couple of interesting articles in the paper last week on high school football mergers: one about the Bemus Point and Chautauqua Lake school boards renewing their decision to have one football team called the “Thunder Dragons,” and another announcing that Clymer and Sherman would be combining their football programs. In a prior week, there was another article on the same subject which one observer described as being “the Wild West,” referring apparently to the fact that there is not a lot of history or experience in undertaking these joint programs. At least one impetus for these decisions is that Section 6 sports officials in western New York need to set up games for later in the year.

I, for one, see these joint football operations between schools as a positive development. There are 18 separate school districts in Chautauqua County, most with declining enrollments, and there is really no way to field a football program in many of these small school systems with the number of students enrolled. If they want to have a football program, they will need to join forces with at least one other district.

What I am hoping also is that school districts will find that such joint operations can be expanded, perhaps into creating a new, common school district. What you don’t read about in the football merger discussions is what other possibilities might be available if two districts with 800 students combined to become a district of 1,600 students. Obviously, the cost of administration would go down, at least on a per student basis. But more importantly, it should make it possible to offer students more choices in terms of science, math and language programs. That would really be good! After all, the kids are there for an education first. A sports program is there to support and supplement the academics of learning.

My grandchildren are all involved in sports – it is terrific! And, of course, their iPads and smartphones are prioritized to receive all the latest sports news. Yet, even the best athlete among them is probably not going to get a college sports scholarship and the chance that one of them could be in the NFL or NBA – one shot in a thousand at best.

What I am hoping most is that their academic education in high school will help them get into college (or the chance to move on to some type of higher education), teach them how to be good citizens and, in the end, also help them get a good job later on in life.

As one of the attendees at the Bemus Point (Maple Grove) school board meeting said: “At the end of the day, we just have to remember that it’s all about the kids.”

A Chautauqua County resident interested in analyzing public policy from a long term perspective writes these views under the name Hall Elliot.