Cooperative Education Services (H.630) - April 17, 2024

Chairman Campion brought the Senate Education Committee together on Wednesday afternoon, asking legislative counsel to give them a high-level overview and see what if any testimony or experts we want to call. He also highlighted Senator Weeks’ questions yesterday about whether the supervisory unions (SUs) could do some of this work.

It was noted that each of the seven possible regional Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) have to vote to both form and SUs have to vote to join. Campion added he may want to change the name of these organizations.

Campion wondered if the burden on the Agency of Education (AOE) may be large if these form all at once. Senator Gulick pointed out that the bulk of the work is being done by the school districts and boards then only review and approvals by the Secretary of Education and State Board of Education.

Campion asked about “specialties that BOCES may have” and “in any way is that limited” or not limited. Legislative Counsel explained that BOCES are free to be flexible and nearly any services for contact or for their members.

Campion also asked about the Local Education Agencies (LEAs – a federal designation for special education entitlements), which is a term mostly defined in federal law. Legislative Counsel noted that there is clarification in the bill that BOCES will not duplicate or substitute the authority of the existing Federally designated agencies and LEAs for that title funding.

Weeks wondered if there was anything inhibiting any single supervisory union from taking on these similar sub-contracting abilities that the bill was giving to BOCES. Legislative Counsel agreed that any SU may do this, for example contract a Spanish teacher and then farm out BUT would be on the hook for the entire position and risk the entire FTE in their budget (essentially, they can but the economies of scale for existing SU’s is not as great as the contemplated BOCES).

Gulick reiterated they need to hear confirmation from AOE on potential staff burdens. Senator Hashim suggested that they pursue a slower process where not all seven potential BOCES form at once. Campion was reluctant because a slow start might mean an “equity issue” for the SUs left behind.

Campion finally asked Representative Buss to elaborate. She answered that the approval process is limited to the review of the geographical distribution of a BOCES for reporting. She also pointed out that this model is well established in most states (except 9) and are quite mature.

Weeks liked the concept but had a different perspective, saying that the state has been accused of having a “very low admin to student ratio” that we need to address and that BOCES are not that answer for obtaining efficiencies. He sees potential unintended consequence here with a new layer of administrative burdens.

He wondered why not encourage the merger of several SU’s, which carry the municipal corporation status to achieve similar results. Buss argued that BOCES would be more nimble and less Ad Hoc than his suggested alternative is likely to be, saying that “the ability to quickly respond to the current crises is really important.”

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