YONKERS, N.Y. – Yonkers is turning to Albany in hopes of eliminating more than $1 million in fees it pays to a trio of BOCES districts - fees that Yonkers officials believe are exorbitant and unnecessary.
Superintendent of Schools Bernard Pierorazio and school officials have presented state legislators with a bill that would eliminate a series of pricey administrative fees charged by BOCES.
The fees, which districts pay in addition to set rates for using BOCES services, cost Yonkers almost $1.3 million this past year, the superintendent said.
“Every other district has the discipline to remain solvent without assessing administrative fees; BOCES should not be the exception,” Pierorazio testified before the state’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee last month. “Eliminating these fees is rational, fair and provides predictability into the future.”
BOCES, which provides services for school districts throughout the state, is made up largely of component, or member schools. The “Big Five” school districts (New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers), however, are not allowed by state law to be component districts.
While both groups pay a set fee for services received, the difference, Pierorazio said, is that member schools are reimbursed by the state for their administrative fees. Non-component school districts are not, he said.
That means Yonkers pays roughly $960,000 in administrative fees every year to Southern Westchester BOCES, a rate of 16 percent of the $6.5 million it paid for services.
“There’s no reason we’re paying them a huge fee for services, and on top of that they’re charging 16 percent,” Pierorazio told the Yonkers Board of Education at an Audit, Budget and Finance Committee meeting this month.
In addition, Yonkers pays similar fees to Northern Westchester and Rockland BOCES, totaling more than $330,000.
“Think of the teachers we could bring back. Think of the support staff. Think of the programs,” Pierorazio said.
What’s more, Pierorazio said, different BOCES districts charge different rates for administrative fees. Northern Westchester, for example, charges 10 percent, while Albany charges a four-percent rate, he said. The superintendent urged the state to “get a hold” of the BOCES districts.
“When you leave it open and you get four percent in Albany County, and you get 16 percent in Southern Westchester, that’s wrong,” he said.
Southern Westchester BOCES spokeswoman Evelyn McCormack said last week the process they use to set the district fees, while extremely complicated, was loosely based on enrollment numbers. That means all schools are charged according to the same formula, she said.
Regardless, the Yonkers district says it plans to continue its fight to have the fees eliminated for all non-component schools.
“We have to do what we need to do, because a million dollars would bring back significant staff for a district that is poorly staffed at this point,” Pierorazio said.