October 21, 2014

NYSUT: Now's the time to boost BOCES

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source:  NYSUT Communications
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Sterling Roberson, the United Federation of Teachers vice president for career and technical education and the keynoter, speaking at the BOCES Leadership Conference.
Caption: Sterling Roberson, the United Federation of Teachers vice president for career and technical education and the keynoter, speaking at the BOCES Leadership Conference.

As New York moves forward with plans to encourage more students to take Career and Technical Education (CTE), NYSUT will be making the case for the state to invest more in BOCES.

“NYSUT has long supported multiple pathways to high school graduation and the Regents “4+1” proposal does open up those multiple pathways,” NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino told about 70 BOCES unionists attending NYSUT’s Leadership Conference over the weekend. “This is an important development and finally puts some focus on the ‘career’ in ‘college- and career-ready.’”

Fortino said the Regents plan, which would allow students to pass four “traditional” Regents exams (instead of five) and one pathway exam, was recommended by NYSUT earlier this year. “We are hopeful that this will mark a significant policy change for SED to recognize that one size does not fit all,” she said.   

In the next legislative session, NYSUT will be making the case for new state aid formulas that encourage more shared services and a greater utilization of BOCES.

Specifically, Fortino noted the maximum amount of a BOCES employee’s salary that qualifies for state aid has not been updated since 1991. As a result, almost half of all BOCES salaries are not even eligible for BOCES aid, meaning the remainder must be covered by local school districts.  

“This provision must be updated to reflect the world of 2014 and not 1991,” Fortino said.

Fortino said component school districts are sending fewer students to BOCES due to budgetary constraints and underfunding by the state. “Half of all schools still receive less from the state than they did six years ago,” she said. Too many districts are restricting attendance at BOCES programs because they simply can’t afford it.

Regent James Tallon, who chairs the Regents state aid committee, said the Legislature would need to increase funding to school districts for CTE programs in order to make the “4+1” program work. “It’s important that we understand this is a huge step, there are big implementation challenges and we are going to have to work collectively to get it done.”

“This is a massive opportunity for us,” said Sterling Roberson, the United Federation of Teachers vice president for career and technical education and the keynoter at the BOCES Leadership Conference.

Roberson said businesses are saying students lack the technical skills needed for current and future job openings. “STEM is embedded in CTE every single day,” Roberson said, referring to science, technology, engineering and math. “CTE is quite different than most people think — it’s an integration of academics and vocational education … You cannot teach electronics without math.”

Perhaps most importantly, Roberson said, CTE gives students the “grit, fortitude and work ethic” that employers want. “Everyone now is looking to CTE … This is our time.”

Aside from discussing ways to boost CTE, BOCES leaders at the conference talked about a number of legislative initiatives that would help BOCES remain economically viable and even expand offerings:

  • a bill that would provide BOCES building aid for school safety expenses like metal detectors and security devices;
  • a bill that would provide preschool special education programs with  a desperately needed cost of living adjustment; and
  • a bill that would allow BOCES to establish reserve funds to cover long-term costs.

Nassau BOCES Central Council of Teachers President Bob Dreaper urged NYSUT to support legislation that would lift the cap on BOCES district superintendent salaries, saying the revolving door of superintendents has hurt the stability of many BOCES when they lose superintendents for better-paying jobs with component districts.

At a roundtable meeting with Fortino, several union leaders voiced concern that their BOCES are not providing services required by a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).

“I’m concerned about legal ramifications, when you have a student whose IEP says they need to be in a 6:1:1 class and those supports and test modifications don’t follow them,” said Bill Baker of United BOCES TA in southwestern New York.  “I teach culinary arts, where kids are working with knives and I have no aide or assistant. Of my 28 kids, almost half the class has IEPs.”

Another BOCES leader, who didn’t want her name published, expressed safety concerns for a physical education or music teacher who has 30 BOCES students in a class, with no support. “It can be a dangerous setting, say if a child is injured in the PE class and the teacher is all alone with 30 kids” she said. “I had an art teacher who just had one of her students try to cut her wrist with an X-Acto knife. “

Fortino said NYSUT staff would follow up with the State Education Department on the IEP issue.

BOCES leaders also shared ideas on a wide range of other topics, such as strategies to help educators work effectively with special needs students and information on what state-approved Annual Professional Performance Review plans look like for BOCES educators.

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