NYSUT members, together with BOCES administrators and students, defended the state's 37 BOCES against irrational budget cuts proposed in this year's executive budget, as part of a massive NYSUT advocacy effort for New York's schools, students and programs.
"BOCES saves the state money, saves districts money and saves taxpayers money," said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira. "At a time when state finances are tight, why are vital, cost-efficient programs on the chopping block? It just doesn't make sense."
Hundreds of advocates fanned out through the Capitol and legislators' offices to tell the story of why and how BOCES works. Their efforts were complemented by the work of hundreds of other NYSUT activists also speaking truth to power about other failings in the proposed budget.
A large contingent came from the Nassau County BOCES. "Our students' futures could be lost when BOCES is cut," said Tim Dolan, a social studies teacher and member of the Nassau BOCES Central Council of Teachers.
Ramone Williams is a nursing assistant student who accompanied Nassau BOCES teachers and administrators to Albany. "My program is like the real world. The teacher prepares you like it's college," he said. "You have to learn medical terms and learn to think with an empathetic mind."
Nursing is just one career and technical education area that has seen success and could face funding problems under the proposed budget. The culinary arts is another.
"There is no one in America saying we need less vocational training," said Gerry Murphy, a culinary instructor and long-time leader in the BOCES TA of Westchester #2. "In our culinary arts program, we train to New York City standards."
Mark Sullivan, a veteran teacher from the Saratoga-Warren BOCES Association, agreed, pointing out that students in CTE programs usually have a retention rate above 90 percent. "The state needs to be careful with the drastic changes they're talking about," he said.
The loss of revenue for BOCES programs also troubles Westchester BOCES TA leader Marty Sommers. He said, "We represent the most vulnerable children in Westchester. A cut to our services hurts the most vulnerable students in the county." Working with NYSUT, Sommers is advocating for legislation that would enable BOCES to accept out-of-state students as another way to increase their revenue stream.
The effect of the budget proposal would be felt across the state, including at the Erie 2 BOCES, which serves many small, rural school districts.
"BOCES has been a regional service since the day it started," Mark Chadderdon, president of the Tri-County BOCES TA, told a legislative staffer. "Why cut a service that's saving you money?"
"With the cap on state foundation aid, districts have less money to educate students," said his colleague Joe Winiecki. "Districts can't afford programs like career and technical education and the alternative education settings many kids need. At BOCES, we're specialists at what we do."
"The proposed cuts to BOCES will really hurt our students," said Pam Modzel, president of the Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES EA. "It's scary to think about what these cuts will do."