At a time when the state is encouraging students to pursue career and technical education, and pushing schools to share more services, the answer can be found in just five letters: BOCES.
That was the common call from educators, students, administrators and board members alike during a joint BOCES Lobby Day attended this week by nearly 200 advocates.
NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta noted the team approach – where BOCES teachers and students sit side by side with administrators and board members - is especially effective.
"The lobbying you'll do today means a lot," Pallotta said. "When you're a constituent and you share your personal stories, it means so much. And this team approach, it's impressive."
NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino, who oversees BOCES issues for the union, urged advocates to educate lawmakers about the Regents' recent approval of a new Career and Technical Education option for graduation and the need to put money behind the effort to make it happen.
"When the Regents approved multiple pathways to graduation, it was a great victory," she said "But now we need to make sure BOCES funding keeps up with these important changes."
BOCES advocates also made the case for more K-12 funding so that school districts can continue sending students to BOCES programs. Between the loss of state aid, the Gap Elimination Adjustment and the property tax cap - being challenged by NYSUT in court - school districts are so hard-pressed financially that they're limiting BOCES enrollment. Activists urged lawmakers to amend the tax cap law to exclude BOCES services and programs from restricted spending.
Marty Sommer of the Southern Westchester BOCES TA thanked Senate Education Chairman John Flanagan, R-Suffolk, for his support of a law that allows BOCES to accept out-of-state students. "We're having success getting students from Connecticut, which brings in revenue and supports programs," he said.
Flanagan and other lawmakers expressed support for finally raising the cap on the maximum amount of a BOCES employee's salary that qualifies for state aid. The $30,000 level has not been updated since 1990, meaning that the rest of the salary must be covered by cash-strapped school districts.
Raising the aidable salary amount will encourage districts to use BOCES, administrators said. As an example, Whitesboro Superintendent David Langone told Langone that his school psychologist will be retiring this year and, with declining student enrollment, he would look at making that a part-time position. "Our ability to hire a high-quality individual part-time would be tough, but perhaps we could look to BOCES for this and share services with another district."
Sitting next to Langone was New York Mills Superintendent Kathy Houghton, who said her rural district would be very interested in such an arrangement.
Others pressed for legislation that would simply even the playing field for BOCES. These include measures that support capital funding for BOCES; would allow BOCES to establish reserve funds for future employee benefit costs; and another that would allow BOCES to get state aid for the purchase of security devices.
"Sometimes we forget that the 'C' in BOCES stands for cooperative," Flanagan said. "We're your allies and we will do what we can do help."
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