SARATOGA SPRINGS — Additional funding for Career and Technology teachers and tweaks to the state’s funding formula were top priorities for school leaders on Friday as they outlined goals for the upcoming state legislative session.
Superintendents, school board members and state lawmakers from across the Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex BOCES area met at the F. Donald Myers Education Center in Saratoga Springs on Friday morning to encourage local legislators to pursue changes they believe would benefit BOCES students.
Douglas Huntley, Queensbury superintendent, emphasized the need for policy that helps schools close the “skill gap” between high school graduates and potential employers.
“Over the last, maybe 10 years, we’ve been working very hard on our Career and Technical Education program and curriculum,” Huntley said.
Although progress has been made, school officials agreed that increasing funding for Career and Technology educators would ensure that more students have access to technical courses.
Many of the funding rules for Career and Technology Education have not changed in several years, including the rate for how much money schools receive from the state to pay vocational teachers. Currently, the state provides only $30,000 of a Career and Technology instructor’s salary, the same amount as when the law was passed initially in 1992, although the average BOCES teacher earns more than twice that amount.
School officials invited local business and industry partners to speak at the meeting. The owner of Morcon Tissue in Eagle Bridge, Joe Raccuia, said there is still plenty of work to be done both locally and legislatively to increase the flow of students in the “pipeline” from skills-based courses to the workforce.
“I understand how difficult it is sometimes to reach across an aisle,” Raccuia said. “But the pipeline is very small, no question about that.”
In a phone interview after the event, state Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, said she has voted in the past for bills that would increase technical teacher funding, and some bills have made it out of the Senate before failing to move through the Assembly.
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Overall, she said, the skills education offered by BOCES is great for students and introduces them to opportunities they may not have been aware of otherwise.
“I think the program is excellent and gives students a chance to see what kind of job opportunities there are here. Sometimes they don’t even realize what there is in this area,” Little said.
Other priorities that officials put forward included adjustments to the state’s Foundation Aid formula, which determines how much aid schools get from the state.
Andrew Cook, Hartford’s superintendent, said changes to the formula have been a priority for several years, because it is the main source of revenue for many districts in the area. Rates of students receiving free and reduced lunches have risen “dramatically,” according to Cook, and he said the formula could be tweaked to better reflect the socio-economic conditions of the area.
Corinth Superintendent Mark Stratton said changing the formula would give him and others more flexibility in their spending.
Huntley also noted that aid for short-term building projects at schools has not kept up with modern costs. He said the threshold for what constitutes one of these projects, which are often building maintenance, should be raised from $100,000 to $250,000 so schools can make larger improvements.
The school leaders’ fourth priority is to speed up access to funds for new technology in the classroom. A 2014-15 law set aside $2 billion specifically for schools to improve security or purchase new technology for students, but the approval process has not kept up with the speed of technological change.
Huntley, a co-chair of the BOCES advocacy committee, said he and others would be meeting with legislators in the coming months to push lawmakers to pursue regional BOCES goals.
“We’ll take several trips to Albany to talk about public school education, and funding on behalf of BOCES and our component school districts,” he said.