Saturday, January 13, 2007

BOCES: Focus on Issues and Facts -- Not Personalities

A letter to the editor this week, "BOCES expansion deserves support" by Mr. Bottini, was an attention-getter with the line:

" If the project was not justified on its own merit, and it is, the support of Mettleman, Danella and Markley warrants our vote of confidence. "

To be sure, Supt. Mettleman, Ms. Danella, Ms. Markley, and Mr. Bottini himself, are passionate, compassionate, determined and capable administrators and educators. There appears to be no reason to doubt their interest or sincerity.

However, the vote on a $39 million dollar project should never be turned into a popularity contest or a "vote of confidence." Instead, it should be based on reason and facts.

This blog has already pointed out that institutionalization of "Alternative Education" at BOCES may harm students and taxpayers alike by allowing local school districts to escape solving a problem largely of their own creation. If the public demands that their local schools solve the problem represented by Alternative Education, the need for Alternative Education would go away. From that perspective, keeping Alternative Education in their rented facilities makes sense; -- if the paint is peeling, go out and buy a bucket of it!

This blog has also already explained how the expansion plan could harm the prospects for Special Education students (and possibly even run counter to the "mainstreaming" or "education in the least restrictive environment" federal rules); further contribute to a "gulag" or "concentration camp" image of the BOCES facility; while doing nothing to alleviate existing disincentives for students to take up vocational/career education subjects.

While consolidation under one roof is believed to be more cost-effective, where are the numbers to support the conclusion? Some costs may be avoided, but others will be incurred. If classrooms are created, others may be left behind -- where are they and who will pick up those costs? This blogger understands that BOCES may be currently renting space with local school districts such as Westmoreland. Consolidation may not only increase those districts' costs, it would make services less convenient to students located therein. As Ross Perot used to say, "the devil is in the details." The details need to be provided to the public. One detail we can be sure of: when debt-service and associated costs are added in, the taxpayers will be paying out a lot more than $39 million.

How about alternatives? The Utica City School District seems hell-bent to blow $300 million of our state tax dollars supposedly at little to no cost to local property taxpayers . . . How about doing something that many have said is needed? Why not team up with BOCES and build a vocational education facility for BOCES in Utica, integrated into Proctor? It would relieve BOCES' space problem and its need to tax for the expansion, bring career education to where the greatest demand exists, allow for voc-ed to be integrated with academic courses (because the cross-town bus ride would be eliminated), and effectively remove the "stigma" currently associated with BOCES.

For the sake of the students and the communities who will pay the bill, these are concerns that must be addressed squarely, and not avoided by letters to the editor focusing on personalities, generalities, and appeals to emotion.


Anonymous said...

I'd like to comment on your Issues & Facts post regarding the BOCES expansion project. I’d like to clear up a few of the facts you posted that are incorrect.

You say, "Consolidation may not only increase those districts' costs, it would make services less convenient to students located therein." However, BOCES is not planning on taking away the special education classes it has in Westmoreland, Sauquoit and other districts. Those students will remain. The reason BOCES needs to upgrade its special education facilities is to accommodate the number of students who cannot be integrated into those classrooms and are better served on the BOCES campus.

You also say that the expansion will do nothing to provide incentives for students to take up career education subjects. This, again, is not the case. Having alternative education and special education students at one facility will give them the opportunities to participate in Career & Technical Education programs because they will be on the same campus, instead of across town.

I also see a problem with your alternative plan to build a career & technical education facility at Proctor in Utica. First of all, Proctor students are NOT the only students who attend BOCES programs, therefore, there would still be a bus ride for the students in the other 11 districts that attend these programs. And in some cases, the bus ride would be longer than it is now if the facility were housed at Proctor.

This project is justified on its own merit and should be supported for the students and adults who use these facilities – approximately 4,000 each year.

Strikeslip said...

To Anonymous: Thank you for your post.

It is hard to know exactly what BOCES' plans are with regard to Westmoreland or other districts. However, BOCES has revealed that the Special Education Students it serves in Utica WILL be transferred to the New Hartford facility along with Utica's alternative education students -- seemingly to justify the proposed expansion. So other districts should reasonably expect that at some point in time, the same thing may be done to them.

You did not address the problem with Alternative Education, as well as some special education students, representing school district failures, which BOCES now proposes to reward with institutionalization. There is a big difference between who is considered disabled today compared with 30 years ago. You cannot deny that the percentage of students labled "special education" students has ballooned over that period. Since no biological contagion explains this phenomenon, either the definition of disabled has changed (i.e., "regular" school is now limited to a narrower portion of the "bell shaped curve" representing all students), or schools have actually created the disabilities by a change in teaching methods/objectives or how students are managed. If BOCES takes these "problem" students on by isolating them away from their regular schools, it takes away any incentive for the local districts to fix what they may be doing wrong -- "out of sight, out of mind."

While concentrating alternative education and special education students at the CTEC facility increases those students' opportunity to participate in CTEC, it also reinforces the perception that CTEC is there primarily for "problem" students. Again, that perception may be unfair to a lot of CTEC students, but the perception is a disincentive for many "regular" education students to participate in CTEC's programs and contributes to a shortage of competent workers and leaders in the trades.

I am not suggesting shutting down CTEC in New Hartford. I am suggesting that if Utica with its EXCEL funds builds CTEC a facility at Proctor, where a substantial demand (and probably also an untapped demand) exists, it will (1) free up space in the New Hartford facility, (2) avoid the need to tax for an expansion there, (3) increase the participation of "regular" students in CTEC and (4) maybe put to rest the "BOCES stigma." BOCES operated without Utica students for many years, so there should be enough of a demand to continue substantial CTEC operations in New Hartford if they are removed from the equation. Giving up the convenience of having all operations under one roof would seem to be a small price to pay to make CTEC's programs more accessible and more desirable.

The alternative plan I've suggested would seem to be a "win-win" situation for students and taxpayers alike.

If no one in authority in the Utica City School District and in BOCES wants to talk seriously about this proposal, then the perception of competing "turfs" and "empire building" contributing to this region's decline is reinforced.