BOCES’ Balancing Act
Administrators at the Putnam Northern Westchester Board of Cooperative Educational Services have a complicated wish list this year.
They are hoping for 18 separate school boards in Putnam and Westchester counties to approve an $18-plus million request for funding so that capital repair projects can be completed and business can continue as usual at the two BOCES campuses in Yorktown Heights.
The $18,150,000 net cost of the project has been broken up into individual segments that relate to the property wealth of the districts and their average daily attendance. The component portions range from just over $2 million for Bedford Central to $524,785 for Putnam Valley, $290,367 for Haldane, and $191,819 for Garrison—the smallest in the BOCES service area.
Right now, when “consolidation of services” is a hot political buzzword, BOCES has already set the standard for consolidation. It offers services to both districts and their students: career & technical education, special education, guidance and child study services, curriculum and instructional services, management services, and adult & continuing education, including General Education Degree and English as a second language programs.
And, programs and services obtained by schools through BOCES are eligible for additional State Aid, which makes good financial sense to many districts.
But as a cooperative entity, BOCES cannot directly tax property owners—it has to receive its funding from the districts it serves—and in this time of financial turmoil, it’s not at all clear that, even if they want to, all 18 districts will be able to unanimously approve the funds BOCES is asking for.
Tom Higgins, the Assistant Superintendent at BOCES, who presided over explanatory presentations to school boards earlier this year, shared with us the specifics of the BOCES proposal:
Replace roofing on nine flat-roof buildings with 30-year rubber membrane $5,190,000
Complete heating/ventilation/air conditioning work on two buildings and upgrade seven buildings $8,700,000
Repair and renovate therapeutic pool for autism spectrum and severely disabled students at the Pines Bridge/Walden campus $2,950,000
Fire alarm system for school $150,000
Associated costs (architect, etc.) $2,060,000
Paid from BOCES Capital Fund ($900,000)
Net Cost to Districts $18,050,000
Haldane has already voted in favor of the BOCES capital project. Garrison tabled its vote on December 21 and Putnam Valley will decided in late January. In the interim, other districts across northern Westchester and Putnam will also be voting.
We asked Higgins what the procedure would be should the votes not be unanimously in favor. “We would go back to the BOCES Board for a conversation about that,” he said. The heating and ventilation system, for instance, is 40 years old, and the roofs were attended to (not replaced) 16 years ago, but are beginning to fail.
The worst-case scenario looks like this: If no work was to be done, and the roof actually failed, the state Education Dept would declare that BOCES can’t function. At that point, if an emergency were then declared, BOCES would have to make the repairs anyway and then bill the component districts.
Nobody wants that to happen, but given Gov. Cuomo’s 2-percent cap on tax levies for school districts and municipalities, and districts facing escalating costs in most budget lines, it will be quite an achievement—and a big relief—if BOCES gets all of the support it is looking for.