Rockland BOCES Superintendent Mary Jean Marsico told approximately 50 parents on Monday night they need to mobilize and contact state and local officials by phone and email to pressure East Ramapo to pay the $5 million overdue for its students’ tuition. Marsico said “A Call To Action” alert involves the PTA, parents and BOCES unions.
The evening information session was the second one conducted on Monday to apprise parents and caregivers of the current situation faced by BOCES. Marsico stated East Ramapo is already 90 days late in paying the $5 million bill. It is putting Rockland’s seven other school districts at risk because they also send students to BOCES’ special education and career services programs.
Marsico told parents the state Education Department originally set a January 2 deadline for East Ramapo to come up with a plan to pay BOCES. The date passed without any response from the financially strapped school district. A new date of Wednesday, Jan. 16 has been established to pay the bill and prepare a fiscal plan to submit to the department. She said BOCES has been creating a triage plan because the nonpayment could impact every other school district.
East Ramapo sends 252 students to BOCES programs. 176 are enrolled in special education classes and 76 in career education.
Rockland’s eight school districts send about 1,000 students to BOCES’ special education programs such as the Jesse Kaplan School and 500 to its career education courses. In addition BOCES has 30 district-based classes throughout Rockland for special education students. It employs more than 900 people some of whom provide required professional development training for teachers.
Marsico said the impact of any program cutbacks would be felt by local small businesses that hire their career graduates. About 5,000 adults take classes through BOCES including 3,500 who are learning to speak English.
Hilltop School PTA President Joan Raynor and Jesse Kaplan School PTA Co-President Ourania Reyes urged attendees to contact local officials to pressure East Ramapo. They provided talking points and a list of officials (see attached PDFs) and will post sample letters on http://jessekaplan-pta.org on Wednesday.
Marsico said administrators met with East Ramapo officials before the year-end break, spoke this week with the state education commissioner and Board of Regents and has been working with all district superintendents on a backup plan.
“I have faith in the state education department and the leverage they are going to use,” she said.
One parent voiced an opposite opinion and said, “I have no faith in the state, the (East Ramapo) board of education. I don’t think they’re going to pay up."
Oscar Dais of Pomona echoed that sentiment about the board and said, “These guys have a wicked heart.”
Marsico explained what legislative changes might occur from the current situation.
“We only run our budget for one year,” she said. “At the end of the school year we zero out.”
BOCES is not permitted to have reserves. If any money is unspent at the end of the school year it is returned proportionately to all districts. It means BOCES cannot manage if a district is late paying its bill. Marsico said Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee and Senator David Carlucci, who attended the meeting, were working to have that law revised.
Jaffee said she was also working on legislation to allow BOCES to have a two-year budget. Carlucci said the goal is to strengthen BOCES financially.
Jaffee, who had been a teacher in East Ramapo, said, “We’ve had constant contact (with state education commissioner and deputy commissioner). We’ll continue to be very strong advocates to resolve this situation.”
County Legislator Cris Carey and Clarkstown Councilman George Hoehmann were also at the meeting.
Marsico said there is a “soft freeze” on spending and they are talking to vendors and asking for payment periods to be extended from 30 to 45 days so BOCES can pay its employees.
When asked about the possibility of the state education commissioner taking over the district, she explained that could only take place if there is a direct violation of a commissioner’s order. She said if there in no response from East Ramapo on January 16 then the commissioner could issue an order, which could set the stage for a state takeover.
Marsico said, “You as parents need to know we are committed to continue the legacy we have.”