Wednesday, 07 February 2024 14:48

BOCES Outlines Legislative Priorities

Photo provided. Photo provided.

HUDSON FALLS — Members of the Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex Board of Cooperative Educational Services (WSWHE BOCES) met with lawmakers last month to discuss legislative priorities for 2024. Some of the organization’s top issues include increasing state support for career and technical education, addressing staff shortages, increasing the spending limit for capital outlays, including school aid provisions in the 2024-2025 state budget, and aiding the transition to zero emissions buses.

Increasing State Support for Career and Technical Education

The existing BOCES aid formula for Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs operated by BOCES allows districts to receive aid on the first $30,000 of a BOCES instructor’s salary. According to BOCES, the average salary of a CTE teacher is now $65,000. BOCES believes that the aidable portion should be increased to ensure that districts can adequately support these programs. BOCES is thus requesting that the BOCES aid reimbursement for BOCES CTE teacher’s salary be increased to $60,000.

Addressing Staff Shortages

According to BOCES, school districts are facing extreme workforce challenges. Teachers, bus drivers, and other staff shortages are making it increasingly difficult to fully staff buildings. Compounding the issues caused by the lack of candidates in the pipeline, current professionals are increasingly choosing to leave their roles earlier in their careers. To address the growing problems of recruitment and retention, BOCES believes the state should consider policy changes and programs that would attract people to needed roles and incentivize employees to stay. BOCES is requesting that policymakers increase flexibilities in teacher certification, retiree employment, and Tier 6 reform.

Increasing the Spending Limit for Capital Outlays

Current law allows school districts to make one “capital outlay” annually. Under this provision, each district may conduct one project that has a cost of $100,000 or less and is paid for in cash each year. Districts then receive their total building aid on the full project in the next year. Because these projects do not require voter approval or borrowing, BOCES believes they can be completed more efficiently and save both the state and the district money due to the lack of interest. The current project threshold of $100,000 was established in 2002 and has not increased since. In the two decades that have passed, the relative buying power of $100,000 has decreased significantly. BOCES requests that the spending limit for capital outlays be raised to $250,000 annually beginning in the 2024-2025 school year.

Including School Aid Provisions in the 2024-2025 State Budget

According to BOCES, districts around the state, including those in the WSWHE BOCES region, are appreciative of the State’s efforts to fully fund the Foundation Aid formula and expense-based aids. To ensure that all students are supported, BOCES is asking that the following provisions be included in the 2024-2025 state budget: a due minimum increase for all districts, regardless of Foundation Aid phase-in level; a “save-harmless” provision to ensure a stable funding baseline for all districts; and support for an initial evaluation of the current cost to educate a successful student.

Aiding the Transition to Zero Emissions Buses

According to BOCES, school districts around the state recognize the importance of taking steps to reduce emissions and protect the environment for future students. Current state law requires that all new school buses acquired be zero emissions by 2027, and all buses in operation must be zero emissions by 2035. The first state guidance on the transition was not released until almost 18 months after the law was enacted, and districts are already running into barriers. The supply of buses for the districts that have the funding and infrastructure in place to begin operations are not adequate or timely. Existing systems and supports have not been updated to reflect this change. Districts need to be able to avail themselves of the full range of state resources and supports through existing aid streams and programs. BOCES requests that the State evaluate all existing programs around transportation, capital and planning, and make updates to all planning and funding streams to include costs related to planning and executing this transition.

In a statement, Hartford Central School District Superintendent Andrew Cook said he believed these legislative priorities “will benefit students across New York State, and we are looking forward to working side-by-side with our representatives to ensure that every student in our region has the best educational experience possible.”

WSWHE BOCES is a public organization that was created by the New York State Legislature in 1948 to provide shared educational programs and services to school districts.

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