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BOCES service saves money for those who buy into it

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When school districts struggle to negotiate contracts or discipline employees, the Board of Cooperative Educational Services is on speed dial for employer-employee services.

The service, according to Jefferson-Lewis BOCES Director of Employer-employee Relations Heather M. Cole, saves money for districts, and therefore taxpayers, because the service charges one collective bill based on the district’s size rather than per hour.

Additionally, because districts are sharing services, the state rewards them by refunding a percentage of the cost through state aid.

“All our districts have what we call high BOCES aid ratios,” said St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES Superintendent Thomas R. Burns. “You pay the full up-front cost only in the first year.”

All north country schools except Massena Central School District and Ogdensburg City School district have signed up for the service.

Ms. Cole, who is an attorney, said her department is working on 18 contracts, not including teacher evaluation plans which most districts are scrambling to finish soon in order to receive a scheduled increase in state aid.

“It is generally less expensive to pay a co-ser (cooperative service agreement) flat rate,” she said. “It also allows is to maintain data that could be used for contract settlements.”

Districts are charged a set amount whether they choose to use the service once a year or every day.

“We have one district that has five negotiation contracts, and they pay the flat rate for the district,” she said. “In my opinion, having come from a private legal practice, it is a more cost effective way to handle labor agreements.”

Ogdensburg City Superintendent Timothy M. Vernsey said his district applies to “every other co-ser there is imaginable” except for employer-employee relations because the district has a solid relationship with Ferrara, Fiorenza, Larrison, Barrett & Reitz, P.C., Syracuse.

“We’ve had a long-standing relationship with the firm for, I don’t know, 25 years, he said.

He said the service, which was $160 per hour for the last contract, is not aidable. However, he notes the company has not raised its rates in several years.

“Our particular negotiator has been with us for 20 or 25 years,” he said. “When he retires, we will reassess options. It’s probably something I could see us going for in some point in time in the future.”

Another city school district superintendent, Watertown’s Terry N. Fralick, said he uses the service frequently.

“We talk to them every week,” he said. “It’s very cost effective. All you have to do is look up the rate of an attorney. Its a bargain.”

The district budgeted $24,6685 for the service. Mr. Fralick believes it is money well spent.

“I wouldn’t try to do my job without them,” he said.

Potsdam Central Superintendent Patrick Brady uses the service on a daily basis. Mr. Burns said Potsdam is one of the most frequent user of it throughout the St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES jurisdiction. About $19,000 was set aside in this year’s budget, which Mr. Brady considers to be a small portion of the $26 million school plan, especially while negotiating evaluation plans for teachers and principals.

“When you have a $26 million business, there are certain people you have on speed dial to help you with different issues,” he said.

LaFargeville Central, a much smaller district, pays $14,300 for the service but will get 61 percent back in state aid come April.

She uses the service not only to handle the contracts, but also call whenever there is a question regarding civil service or employees.

“Comparatively, we could never hire a lawyer for that much,” said Superintendent Susan L. Whitney.

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