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Rier suggests major changes to EPS formula

Former Education Commissioner Jim Rier told the governor’s special blue ribbon commission on education today the state needs to stop subtracting Title I funds as part of its state aid calculation, but will have to look at increasing the number of students per teacher, at least in the lower grades, as part of the bargain.

“This just plain needs to go,” Rier said, of the way Title I funds currently are treated in the formula.

Rier, who is known as an expert on the state Essential Programs and Services (EPS) allocation formula, also recommended giving more money to districts with high percentages of lower-income students, as measured by those receiving free-and-reduced lunch.

The current EPS formula gives an additional 15 percent for economically disadvantaged students. Rier is recommending a tiered approach, with the caveat that funding be targeted and only used for things like tutoring, after-school programs and summer school. Schools would have to account for their use of the money as part of a targeted allocation.

His recommendation would give districts the following:

  • Up to 40 percent disadvantaged would get the current 15 percent
  • 40 to 60 percent would receive 20 percent
  • Above 60 percent would receive 25 percent

Rier also said he would like to see an increase in the number of pre-kindergarten classrooms in public schools and recommended encouraging that by giving up-front allocations for new programs based on anticipated enrollment, which would then be adjusted by the October count. Rier said he has often heard the greatest impediment to starting a pre-kindergarten program is the two-year wait for subsidy based on the enrollment count. The state’s charter schools are funded based on estimated enrollment today.

When asked how much these initiatives would cost, Rier said he did not know. Earlier studies on fixing the Title I issue alone have estimated it could move up to $40 million around, creating winners and losers.

Rier, who often serves as a mentor to the blue ribbon commission because of his knowledge of state aid was asked to give his recommendation on changing the EPS formula. He also weighed in on the possibility of a statewide teachers contract that the commission has raised at previous meetings and was raised again today by Deputy Commissioner William Beardsley.

Rier said if a statewide contract is adopted, there should still be regional approaches to teacher salaries.

The commission, which officially met in Presque Isle on Monday, with a video connection to a group in Augusta, also got a presentation on New York’s Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES). BOCES is a system of regional cooperation, where the state’s 700 school districts also belong to 37 regional districts, run by a District Superintendent and a regional board.  Those districts can span as many as five counties.

While their most visible focus is career and technical education, BOCES also supports the sharing of central office functions, professional development for teachers and the sharing of on-line classes in hard to fill teaching positions, like foreign language and physics.

Former New York Deputy Commissioner James Kadamus said the system has evolved since its start in the early 1950s, but one thing is key in its success. There has to be some kind of incentive funding to get districts to share, he said.

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