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Local school officials respond to Rochester news article

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The Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services does not overcharge its districts, according to BOCES Superintendent Jack J. Boak Jr.

The statement was in response to an article Sunday in Rochester’s Democrat and Chronicle saying the state’s BOCES overcharged taxpayers by overcharging New York school districts approximately $473 million in the last four years.

According to Michele A. Traynor, Jefferson-Lewis BOCES director of finance, the organization reimbursed a total of about $4.7 million to its districts for the 2011-12 school year. Jefferson County districts were reimbursed about $3.4 million and Lewis County districts were reimbursed about $1.3 million.

St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES Superintendent Thomas R. Burns was not available for comment.

“It’s not really overcharging, because we never know how many students are going to enroll that year,” Mr. Boak said.

BOCES meets with school districts several times a year to track how many students are expected to enroll in the following year’s occupational or special education classes. District officials can anticipate the number of students enrolling in BOCES classes but also need to take into account that new students arrive every day because of military-related school transfers.

Sackets Harbor Central Superintendent Frederick E. Hall Jr. said the school may pay for 29 students to enroll in classes offered by BOCES by the time the organization prepares its budget in April, but if only 20 students sign up by the end of the following year, BOCES will give the district its money back.

“BOCES cannot hold a fund balance at all,” Mr. Hall said. “Every penny that goes into this is taken into account.”

In his opinion, it would be worse to be charged an unbudgeted higher rate because more students needed a costly class than anticipated.

When the reimbursement is provided in the fall, that money can go toward next year’s budget. In Sackets Harbor’s case, it has a line item in this year’s budget that accounts for the anticipated reimbursement.

Watertown City School District Superintendent Terry N. Fralick, who has complained about the school budget in the past, does not see the additional charge as creating budgeting issues. He taught regional BOCES classes from 1987 to 1989.

“Some of the programs that start out don’t come to fruition,” he said. “There are some things they budget for that never happen. The same thing happens with our budget.”

He does not consider it to be an extra payment because all schools are reimbursed.

Copenhagen Central School Business Manager Marcia A. Mundy agreed, saying that Fort Drum students can make enrollment fluctuate greatly.

“The bulk of the charge (at Copenhagen) is for special education services,” she said. “It is so hard to project those numbers. Those services are not cheap.”

She did not feel any of her colleagues felt they were being overcharged, knowing they eventually would be reimbursed for any services not used.

“We’re all very aware of their hardships when they develop their budget, because we all face the same thing,” she said.

The Democrat and Chronicle’s story can be found at www.democratandchronicle.com/article/20120930/NEWS01/309300039/BOCES-school-districts-overcharge?odyssey=mod|newswell|text|Home|s.

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