March 02, 2017

Students' stories show power of BOCES programs

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source:  NYSUT Communications
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Caption: Tamira Glover says the educators at Southern Westchester BOCES' Sprain Brook Academy helped to turn her life around. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

To Tamira Glover, being in a BOCES program for incarcerated youth literally saved her life.

“Honestly if it hadn’t been for my BOCES family, it would have gone one of two ways,” Glover told state lawmakers as she passionately made the case for more BOCES funding. “I’d either be doing major time or I’d be dead. I really believe BOCES saved my life.”

Serving time in Westchester County Jail when she was just 17, Glover said the educators at Southern Westchester BOCES’ Sprain Brook Academy pushed her to develop her reading skills, focus on schoolwork and turn her life around.

“They didn’t give up on me,” Glover said, as she lobbied side by side with BOCES counselor Kevin McAllister and science teacher Keith Mattos, both members of Southern Westchester BOCES TA. “To put it real simple, they got me through.”

In fact, when she finished her jail time, Glover convinced the judge to let her stay in the program so she could graduate last August with a Regents high school diploma.   Now, she’s working at a local puzzle-making factory and plans to attend college this fall.

“Even though I’ve graduated, they’re still pushing me now,” Glover told lawmakers. “They’re like a family to me.”

Glover was one of many BOCES students who took part in this week’s BOCES Lobby Day, poignantly making their case for more state funding so programs can be enhanced and expanded.

Their stories were as varied as the incredible range of BOCES programs — from intensive special education programs to career and technical offerings in fast-growing fields like health sciences and the trades.

Matt Robertson, who attended a BOCES program for students with autism at Scarsdale High School, proudly told lawmakers how he went on to graduate from SUNY Purchase.

“It was all my incredible BOCES teachers who got me where I am today,” Robertson said. “I’m now a teacher’s aide with BOCES so I can give back and help other kids like me.”

Robertson told Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins he intends to take classes at CUNY Lehman College and hopes to someday become a teacher himself.

“It’s success stories like these that really impact legislators,” said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta, as he welcomed about 150 BOCES teachers, administrators and board members who joined forces for BOCES Lobby Day on Wednesday. “What makes our advocacy day so unique is that you’re out their lobbying together as teams, all spreading the word that BOCES are a crucial part of our educational system.”

The BOCES advocates strongly made the case for more K-12 funding so that school districts can afford to send students to BOCES programs. Under the state’s property tax cap, school districts are severely limited in spending, thus cutting back on BOCES enrollment.

“We’re gravely concerned about the property tax cap,” said Southern Westchester BOCES TA’s Marty Sommer. “As it impacts districts, it certainly impacts us.”

Andy Jordan, co-president of Monroe 1 BOCES United Employees, told lawmakers that staff shortages are taking a toll.

“It’s a crisis,” he told Assemblyman Harry Bronson, D-Rochester. “Our injury rate at BOCES is twice the national average and it’s putting incredible weight on teachers and TAs. At our last meeting, (it was noted) that a paraprofessional at BOCES can go down the road and make more money working at Burger King — and do it in a safer place.”

Monroe 1 BOCES District Superintendent Dan White agreed about the staffing shortage: “We used to get hundreds of applicants when we had a special education teacher opening … For a variety of reasons now, we’re not getting anywhere near enough.”

“At the end of the day, the ask is money,” Jordan said.

Aside from increasing K-12 school aid, BOCES advocates urged lawmakers to support a wide assortment of bills that would help BOCES remain economically viable and even expand offerings:

  • a bill that would increase the aidable salary for BOCES CTE programs. The current aid formula has not changed since 1990 so the state only provides aid for the first $30,000 of a BOCES instructor's salary;
  • a bill that would allow BOCES to establish reserve funds to cover long-term costs;
  • 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 exempt BOCES capital projects from the property tax cap.

Currently, if a BOCES wants to replace a roof, it must get permission of all component school districts.

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