Another bloated BOCES budget

On Tuesday, April 29, the Lake Placid Central School District Board of Education had before it a resolution to approve the tentative 2014-15 administrative budget of the Franklin-Essex-Hamilton Board of Cooperative Educational Services, which totaled about $1.9 million. During discussion on the motion, I read from prepared remarks as follows:

“I intend to vote against approval of this resolution, like I did last year and as I plan to do in future years unless and until certain issues are resolved. I would like to explain my reasons why here tonight to our new BOE members Rick and Jen, and Superintendent Catania, also to the BOEs of the nine other component school districts in FEH BOCES, and finally and especially to the FEH BOCES BOE itself and its executive director, Mr. Stephen Shafer. My hope is that others on this and other school district boards will support me in my position, and that FEH BOCES will hear and understand my issues and then change their ways accordingly.

“Though I do not like the current payment scheme wherein all 10 component districts MUST pay a defined pro-rata share of the BOCES admin budget (in our case about 8 to 9 percent) irrespective of how many BOCES service programs they CHOSE to purchase (in our case about 4.5 percent), that is not my beef tonight.

“Rather, my main problem is with the admin budget per se, specifically its composition and growth. With respect to composition, I consider BOCES administration to be absolutely stuffed with a large number of people and a high level of expenses. To wit, the administrative staff includes an executive director, a deputy superintendent, a director of management services, a director of library services, three school principals and three business managers (these folks for two building locations), and a support group of many other accounting, purchasing, secretarial, planning, outreach and human resource personnel. To wit, the admin budget includes the salary and benefit costs of all active central admin AND supervisory personnel currently at the organization, and it contains the health care benefit costs of all retirees formerly with the organization. I believe that both of these parameters are exorbitant and excessive.

“With respect to growth, the proposed admin budget goes up by about $90,000, or 4.9 percent, next year. This is on top of increments of 14 percent last year and 15 percent the year before. I believe that these increases are unrealistic and irresponsible.

“Additionally, I am troubled that BOCES would even dare to propose an admin budget that is more than two times greater than the mandated 2 percent tax levy limit, so called, within which most school districts have to operate. They must certainly know that their proposal can only be defeated by majority vote of the 10 component districts, several of which are in a difficult position by not wanting to bite off the hand that feeds them so generously and inexpensively with much needed service programs. I am also disturbed that certain costs are being consciously shifted from the discretionary, opt-in service program component to the obligatory, pay-up admin component. I believe that this way of doing business is self-serving, sneaky and unjust. And in the long run, I believe it will be counterproductive.

“Thank you for your attention and consideration.”

Subsequently, the board agreed to endorse these remarks and then proceeded to vote unanimously (zero yeas, six nays, one member absent) against approval of the resolution.

John Hopkinson lives outside Lake Placid and is vice president of the Lake Placid Central School District Board of Education.