April 2012 Issue
March 19, 2012

BOCES activists: Let us be part of the solution

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: Ulster BOCES teacher Mark Harris shows off a robot made by students. Photos by Andrew Watson.
Ulster BOCES TA President Kathy Taylor tells NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira about a new summer program to introduce middle schoolers to Career and Technical Education.

Ulster BOCES TA President Kathy Taylor
tells NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira
about a new summer program to introduce
middle schoolers to Career and Technical

From a souped-up motorcycle on display in the Legislative Office Building to a parent's plea for continued special education services, state lawmakers got an up-close look at the power of BOCES during a recent lobby day.

Ulster BOCES teacher Mark Harris was beaming with pride as he showed off a robot and motorcycle that were designed, engineered and built by four classes of high school students.

"The kids have gotten so caught up in the project that they've actually come in nights and during break to work on the bike," Harris said.

In the office of Senate Education Chairman John Flanagan, a parent and teacher offered a heartfelt plea for continued funding for programs like one at Southern Westchester BOCES.

"My son Henry, is 9 and he is so lucky to be in this program for children with autism," said Erin Sullivan-Thiesen. "Our school district sends him to this incredible BOCES program and he has this wonderful teacher who is sitting next to me."

"It's a struggle every day," said teacher Christine Milano, explaining that some of her students ranging from third grade to sixth grade are just beginning to speak and aren't quite toilet-trained.

Milano, a 13-year special education teacher, received a layoff notice last June. "The hardest part was I couldn't tell my kids whether I'd be back," she said. "It's frightening for the kids not to know who's going to be their teacher."

"And for their parents," Sullivan- Theisen added, noting how thrilled she was when Milano was called back as the school year began. "That's why I'm here, to give our legislators a more complete picture, to let them know how much I appreciate what BOCES does."

Harris and the parent-teacher duo were among about 130 educators, administrators, students and supporters who came to Albany calling for the expansion of the wide array of BOCES programming. A delegation of students from the New Visions Law and Government program in the Capital Region shared how their half-day BOCES program has given them the chance to experience internships, observe court action and meet with lawmakers.

"We told legislators we need to expand these kinds of programs," said Raquel Fisher-Salame, a Troy senior who is pursuing international studies in college and, possibly, law school.

"Our lobby day participants clearly demonstrate how BOCES are aligning their career and technical education programs to prepare students for both college and 21st century careers," said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira.

The state budget was not final as NYSUT United went to press. In meetings with legislators, BOCES advocates also offered solutions to bring in revenue and let BOCES survive and thrive — without costing the state a dime.

Erie 2 BOCES teacher Joe Winiecki urged lawmakers to support a bill that would allow BOCES programs to accept out-of-state students. Two years ago, the State Education Department stopped allowing the practice, which brought in millions of dollars in revenue for about a dozen BOCES.

Winiecki noted that the Erie 2-Chautaqua-Cattaraugus BOCES educated a number of Pennsylvania students paying full tuition, which enabled the program to better target according to age and needs.

"Our kids are losing out because of this bureaucratic decision," he said.

"To me it's no different than allowing SUNY to accept out-of-state students," said Marty Sommer of Southern Westchester BOCES.

Larry Marino of Putnam North Westchester BOCES urged lawmakers to allow BOCES to sell services such as curriculum, professional development and an online job application system. "We serve about 500 districts in New York with our online job service and it saves districts a lot of money," he said. "We've gotten requests from other states but have to tell them no."

The activists also called for legislation that would encourage districts to send students for full-day programs, rather than part-time sessions with higher transportation costs.