The lines were front and center in the Niagara/Orleans BOCES legal notice published in the Wednesday edition of this newspaper.

Total personnel services (salaries): $902,412

Total employee benefits: $1,023,261

That’s 13.39% more spent on benefits than for central administration and supervisory salaries. The sorest subject in that benefit line, according to Clark Godshall, BOCES district superintendent, is health insurance. The district has teacher aides making $15,000 a year in salary and receiving family health insurance worth $28,000.

Godshall did not know, off the top of his head in a Wednesday telephone interview, how much the total outlay for insurance is, but he said it's not the first time benefit costs have outpaced salaries.

Other elements of the district's 2021-2022 benefits budget include FICA and FUTA (covering Medicare, Social Security and Unemployment insurance) as well as pension contributions depending on the tier of the employee.

Participation in the State Pension Plan is tiered according to date of hire with more recent employees receiving a much less robust benefit and contributing more than long-time employees. Employees are locked into the State Retirement system on the first day they take a job with a participating employer. Hence, someone who 15 years ago took a summer job with a town highway department might today get a full-time job  somewhere else in the state and receive a better pension than a peer working for a public entity for the first time.

Asked about organizations like Highmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield shelling out to sponsor the Buffalo Bills stadium, Godshall was incredulous.

“Now you hit a sore spot with me,” he said. “You go out and support all these organizations and pay all this money. Why don’t you lower our premiums? The unions want Blue Cross and Blue Shield" but protest about sharing premiums with the district.

Godshall said his total budget is $60 million across all participating local school districts. BOCES is an acronym for Board of Cooperative Educational Services. It provides districts with assistance across numerous areas from helping with special needs students to providing the training needed for a general equivalency diploma and offering vocational training to adults as well as high school students.

BOCES' budget is much more complicated than a local school district budget that people vote up or down, Godshall said.

“We have 105 separate budgets,” he said noting that each has at least 35 separate lines. “104 budgets are not voted on.”

The other challenge, he said, is districts sign up a la carte for services, be it technology or instruction. Any district, at any time, can decide to go elsewhere.

The annual meeting of the BOCES trustees and members of the boards of education of its component districts will be held at 7 p.m. April 14, virtually. For information about attending the meeting remotely, visit www.onboces/org.

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