BY MICHAEL CAHILL
Several Rockland County officials announced last week, a five-point plan for combating one of the many fiscal problems facing Rockland, community college chargebacks.
Rockland County Legislator Cris Carey, R-Bardonia, Stony Point Town Councilwoman Luanna Konopko, and Orangetown Councilman Paul Valentine joined Rockland County Legislator Ed Day, R-New City, as he announced the plan for lowering chargeback costs during a press conference last Wednesday afternoon, in the Allison-Parris County Office Building.
Earlier this year, the legislature had approved legislation that passed on $1.8 million in community college chargeback costs to the towns. These chargeback costs are monies paid to other community colleges by county governments for students who attend community college outside of their home county.
There also has been movement on this front, as expected at a press conference today, November 29, another group of officials will announce a plan to eliminate the chargebacks to towns and absorb the costs back into the county budget.
At today’s press conference Legislators Frank Sparaco (R) and county executive candidate Legislator Ilan Schoenberger (D) are expected to announce to town supervisors that the county will agree to absorb those costs for the time being.
In contrast, Day’s plan deals with reducing the level of those costs overall and providing tax relief.
The move to pass costs to towns this year tacked on a substantial amount of money, mid-year, to towns’ budgets. In Stony Point alone, according to Konopko, the decision resulted in the town being on the hook for an additional almost $160,000. In Clarkstown, it cost the town over $600,000.
The chargebacks do not cost taxpayers more money if they come through the town rather than the county, but moving the costs impacts the budget process of town governments. The move was particularly controversial this year because the county charged towns for the year’s costs unexpectedly and ex-post facto.
In June of this year State Senator David Carlucci introduced legislation aimed at preventing the county from passing these chargeback costs onto the towns. However, the New York State Senate Finance Committee took no action on the bill and it never made it to the floor of the senate.
There are many problems with this chargeback system, however the big problem, that Day’s plan hopes to address, is the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City.
FIT is officially considered part of the community college system in New York even though, unlike its counterparts, it offers bachelor’s and master’s programs. According to Day’s numbers, FIT accounts for 60 percent of the chargebacks paid in Rockland County.
At Rockland County Community College a full-time New York resident pays $4,025 a year towards and can only earn a two-year Associate’s degree. While at FIT they will pay $5,768 a year for a Bachelor’s degree, and $9,198 a year for a Master’s degree.
Day called the burden of having taxpayers subsidize bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the community college level unfair. He equated it to asking your neighbor to borrow the thousands of dollars needed for a bachelor’s or master’s degree.
As a way to end this, the first step in the group’s plan is to remove FIT’s classification as a community college; a move that Day said already has the support of Assemblyman Keneith Zebrowski. The plan also calls for the proper state funding of community colleges. According to Day’s numbers, New York State is not providing the minimum 40 percent funding to community colleges that is required by law.
Also proposed is a minimum GPA requirement that community college students must meet to be eligible for taxpayer-funded loans, as well as a minimum timeframe for those students to complete their degrees.
“It is our hope today we will commence a new beginning of broad governance, that crosses governmental boundaries and recognizes that we must all work together,” said Day.
Day later added, “While certainly not alleging any impropriet
ies, one cannot ignore the coincidence that the president of the SUNY Board of Trustees, H. Carl McCall, and the long time president of F.I.T.. Ms. Joyce Brown, also happen to be husband and wife.”