A MAP OF the proposed BOCES merger, which combine Sullivan County's district with Orange-Ulster's.
Public: Nix BOCES merger
By Dan Hust
LIBERTY The recent study recommending a merger between the Sullivan and Orange-Ulster BOCES said four of Sullivan County’s eight public school superintendents and a “significant” number of “other members of the educational community” support it as well.
Most of them, however, did not seem to be in attendance or willing to speak at Thursday’s public hearing on the matter.
Though about 300 people gathered inside the Liberty High School auditorium, less than two dozen chose to tell NYS Education Department representatives their feelings on whether or not merging the local BOCES with one based in Goshen could be a good thing.
The majority most of whom were closely tied in employment or leadership to either Sullivan or Orange-Ulster BOCES rejected the idea for a variety of reasons.
“The best is to simplify and be more efficient, not be larger and more complex,” remarked BOCES teacher Evelyn Raymond.
“We’re a very close-knit community here,” said Sue Huggler, representing the Liberty Central School Assistants, Monitors and Aides Association. “Maybe State Ed. Commissioner [Richard] Mills should come down here and see what we give our kids at Sullivan County BOCES.”
Notably, representatives of the two largest school districts in the county, Monticello and Liberty, agreed that a merger would work well.
“Because of the economies of scale, I support the merger,” Liberty Superintendent Michael Vanyo stated.
He was joined in the sentiment by Richard Feller, representing Monticello. Referencing the fact that the various area BOCES already cross-contract for services, both men agreed that so long as local BOCES facilities remain open, merging with the larger BOCES to the south would provide new opportunities for students, staff and the involved communities.
But those opposed to a merger criticized the study itself, undertaken by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government after Sullivan BOCES District Superintendent Martin Handler left last year. Such studies are legally required when superintendents depart BOCES.
“The Rockefeller Institute was inconsistent in their use of data,” charged Sullivan BOCES Board Vice President Herb Bauernfeind, speaking on behalf of the rest of the board.
He felt researchers had been too selective and narrow in their focus, utilizing data from 2006-2007 only, and not fully taking into account the financial impact of raising Sullivan BOCES’ teachers’ salaries to meet those at Orange-Ulster.
But Commissioner Mills himself has already written a letter of support for the merger, echoing his policymakers’ belief that a BOCES with less than 40,000 students is inefficient. Sullivan BOCES has just over 10,000 enrolled students, while Orange-Ulster possesses more than 55,000.
“A merger would provide Sullivan with access to the resources and expertise of Orange-Ulster BOCES and provide students, component districts, and economic development interests with additional educational and management services,” Mills wrote prior to the public hearing. “Building on connections between the two BOCES that already exist in professional development, school improvement, athletics, and technology, a merger can be expected to enhance other educational opportunities to Sullivan County.”
Given that the decision to merge the BOCES lies solely in Mills’ hands, it is likely such will be undertaken by the date he has already tentatively set: July 1 (coinciding with his retirement, but to be delayed if either BOCES finds replacements for their interim superintendents).
As a result, at Thursday’s hearing, Sullivan West school board member Noel van Swol, long a critic of Mills throughout SW’s problematic merger, delivered a message of distrust to what he termed a “lame duck” commissioner.
“Most Sullivan County residents understand that this proposal is a Trojan horse designed to eventually shut down all BOCES facilities in Sullivan County and unnecessarily transport students enormous distances to facilities in other counties,” van Swol claimed.
“... Commissioner Richard P. Mills should quit meddling in local affairs when it isn’t necessary and try to keep the broken promises made about leasing and utilizing the closed Sullivan West facilities for educational purposes.”