The Senate Education Committee, chaired by Senator Suzi Oppenheimer (D-Mamaroneck), held the last of three public hearings exploring how the delivery of shared services through Boards of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES) or related entities might be expanded to create greater efficiencies and lead to further taxpayer savings. The hearing took place on October 13, 2009 at the Jefferson Lewis BOCES in Watertown, New York. It was attended by representatives of BOCES, school districts, unions and governmental organizations.
BOCES was created to help school districts improve their educational offerings by delivering shared services. Over the years, BOCES’ mission has expanded to include special education, career and technical education, management services, as well as “back office” functions, such as payroll, employee benefits administration and transportation services. In 2008, the Commission on Local Efficiency and the NYS Commission on Property Tax Relief identified BOCES as a model that should be replicated for its ability to deliver cost savings programs and services.
Throughout these hearings the Committee has heard testimony about how the BOCES model might be utilized to achieve cost savings in the provision of several additional shared services, including internal auditing, printing, information technology and telecommunications, out-of-district transportation, purchasing and health care. Allowing BOCES to contract with municipalities and other entities for these shared services would require specific legislative and regulatory reforms, as several individuals testified. The Committee also heard that while BOCES is well positioned to expand its shared service offerings, the proposals under consideration must be thoroughly reviewed to ensure that the core purpose of BOCES remains educational in nature. BOCES currently provides its member school districts with enrichment programming, vocational and arts training, clinical programs and programs for the physically and emotionally challenged.
“Every student in New York is entitled to a first class education, but in today’s economy it is increasingly difficult to balance the needs of our students with what taxpayers are willing and able to pay,” said Senator Oppenheimer. “It is therefore imperative that we explore every possible means to create efficiencies that will reduce school costs and alleviate the pressures on local property taxes,” said Senator Oppenheimer. “These hearings have identified numerous ways in which the cooperative structure of BOCES might be utilized to deliver additional shared services, and the Committee will carefully consider them all.”
In addition to Senator Oppenheimer, today’s hearing was attended by Senator Darrel J. Aubertine.
“Education is a top priority and we must continue to invest in our children,” said Senator Aubertine. “However, the strain on taxpayers throughout this state makes it critical that we look for new means to save money and cut costs. Sharing services between districts is certainly something we must explore and BOCES is a model we can use. These hearings help us as state lawmakers to collect input and use that input to better fund and continue to improve our education system.”
The Committee held additional hearings on this matter on Friday, October 2nd in Wheatley Heights, New York and on Thursday, October 8th in West Seneca, New York.
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