BOCES hold meeting to discuss changes in state aid

Parents and students walk towards information tables at the Gary D. Bixhorn Technical Center’s open house on Feb. 11. If aid to Bixhorn, a BOCES school, becomes unfavorable to surrounding districts, students may suffer the consequences.

By Rabia Gursoy and Josh Joseph

Over 300 school executives and superintendents met with lawmakers at the Longwood Legislative Breakfast to raise their concerns about Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s 2020-21 budget plan. 

At the breakfast, held on Feb. 1, the educators tried to persuade lawmakers to push back on a proposal that would lump 10 categories of educational aid, formerly granted based on each school district’s expenses, into one pool. This pool includes funding for Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), New York’s unique educational cooperatives that provide alternatives to traditional elementary education. 

“It’s the first time he’s ever done this. It really…took a lot of people by surprise,”  Julie Lutz, the Chief Operating Officer of Eastern Suffolk BOCES, said. Lutz explained that her school, among others, relies on the expense-based aid that would be rolled into the formula. 

Without the incentive of getting their money back for investing in BOCES services, districts may see less of an opportunity in their programs. BOCES are maintained through cooperation and funding from multiple surrounding school districts. They rely on expense-based aid designated as “reimbursable” by the state government to provide their educational services — vocational programs, summer schooling and adult education, among others. Up until this year, aid has been allocated predictably based on how much each district uses BOCES services, and is reimbursed by the state after it is used. 

With Cuomo’s proposal, the relationship between expenses and aid becomes less direct. 

“You don’t know from one year to the next what foundation aid increase you might receive, so it’s very unpredictable,” Bob Lowry, a deputy director at the New York State Council of School Superintendents, said.

BOCES executives also say the proposed change, and the math behind it, is too complicated. 

 “It’s really kind of a joke that there’s a handful of people in the state who really understand the formula,” Lutz said. “It doesn’t make sense to put more money into a formula that isn’t driving money where it needs to go, to begin with.”  

The governor’s office sought the change in an effort to push more aid to poorer districts. 

“All BOCES services are still available to every component district and aid is not cut. We believe quality services will continue to compete,” Freeman Klopott, a press officer at the state Division of Budget, said.

The Gary D. Bixhorn Technical Center, a vocational school and a member of Eastern Suffolk BOCES, held an open house on Feb 11. The event was packed with incoming students and parents. 

“I love the opportunities BOCES provides for my daughter, and if there were to be budget cuts this would hurt the community more than anything,” Daina Schreck, the mother of a student at Bixhorn Technical Center, said. 

The open house had set up over 50 tables and classes in order to help students find a place for themselves. Future Bixhorn student Taylor Campbell valued the educational alternatives that the school offered. 

I don’t really know what I want to do, but this place has many choices and I can choose one as a career path,” she said. If aid to Bixhorn becomes unfavorable to surrounding districts, students like Campbell may suffer the consequences.

Over the next three months, BOCES advocates will make their case to lawmakers, fellow educators, and the public. On February 11, educational interest groups will appear before the Assembly Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee as part of annual budget hearings. 

“We will be testifying along with other groups, and our opposition to the proposal to consolidate the expense-based aids into the foundation will be the most prominent theme that we’ll stress,” Lowry said.

The budget proposal will be vetted and revised by the State Legislature before it arrives on the governor’s desk in April.