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Merger talks and merit pay

Four months ago, it seemed as though Kevin Gaughan was at the helm of an unstoppable movement to trim local governments. Voters in West Seneca and Evans cut their town boards by two members each.

Kevin Gaughan But lately, it seems that voters have grown tired of Gaughan and his crusade.

A month ago, voters came out in droves to defeat efforts to dissolve the villages of Sloan and Williamsville. And yesterday, Grand Island residents said no to trimming the Town Board by two members.

Ironically, just as some of the final ballots were cast in Grand Island last night, up in Orleans County, residents gathered to hear more about a proposal to merge the Barker and Lyndonville school districts. The two school boards in January got a state grant to study the possibility of merging the two districts, each of which has fewer than 1,000 students. Dire economics is the primary motivation for considering such a move. Although a combined district would straddle two counties, with Barker in Niagara and Lyndonville in Orleans, the longest bus ride would be about an hour -- which sounds pretty long, but is only a few minutes longer than the longest bus ride now in that neck of the woods.

A study last year by UB's Regional Institute concluded -- contrary to popular thought -- that merging districts is not necessarily the most effective way to save money. But, as state Education Department officials have said for years, the UB study suggested that districts with fewer than 1,000 students should carefully consider merging. Among the likely suspects named in the study: Barker and Lyndonville, along with North Collins and Eden in Erie County.

This effort is far more low-key than anything Gaughan has championed. Residents and school officials have been meeting over the past few months, looking at every angle of a possible merger. Ultimately, it will be up to voters in both districts to make the decision. Will it fly? We'll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, on the national education scene this week, the first-ever scientific study of the effects of merit pay for teachers is causing quite a stir.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University found that annual bonuses of up to $15,000 had no significant effect on student performance. The study involved 300 middle school math teachers in Nashville who volunteered for the study. Half were put in a control group, and the other half were put in a group that made them eligible for annual bonuses of $5,000, $10,000 or $15,000.

"If teachers know they will be rewarded for an increase in their students' test scores, will test scores go up? We found that the answer to that question is no," Matthew Spring, executive director of the National Center on Performance Initiatives, said in a Vanderbilt news release. "That by no means implies that some other incentive plan would not be successful."

-- Mary Pasciak

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About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

@denisejewellgee | djgee@buffnews.com


Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes | tlankes@buffnews.com


Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone | stan@buffnews.com


Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

@DeidreWilliamsB | dswilliams@buffnews.com

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