In a new episode of Policy Outsider, guest Anita Murphy, district superintendent at Capital Region BOCES, discusses how school districts and BOCES are sharing resources and working together to continue supporting students through new challenges imposed by the COVID-19 crisis and planning for a variety of budget and instructional uncertainties in the coming academic year.

New York State is anticipating a $13.3 billion loss in tax revenue in the economic wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a new round of federal aid for state and local governments is being negotiated in Congress, much uncertainty still remains, and school administrators are preparing for a wide range of budget cuts. School districts that are more reliant on state aid, such as rural districts and poorer urban districts, are preparing for particularly challenging budgets.


Anita Murphy, District Superintendent, Capital District BOCES

  • Transcript

    Transcript was generated using AI software and may contain errors. 

    Alexander Morse  00:03

    We are continuing our COVID series by looking at the impact the coronavirus is having on school budgets. We have special guest Capital Region BOCES District Superintendent Anita Murphy to tell us about how her schools are responding, plus the effort schools and teachers are undertaking to provide resources to students and families amid uncertainty. This is Policy Outsider. I’m your host Alex Morse. In her current role, Anita focuses on state-level responsibilities such as coordinating statewide, regional, and local initiatives; overseeing the administration of state grants; and testing development. Anita began her career as a teacher in the Binghamton City School District and quickly rose up the ranks. Prior to coming to BOCES, Anita was the superintendent for the Altmar-Parish-Williamstown Central School District, north of Syracuse. Prior to that, Anita served as the deputy superintendent in both the Rochester City and Syracuse City Schools, and the director of instruction in the Albany City Schools. She has also worked for the New York State Education Department as the associate commissioner. Anita has valuable insight into some of the challenges and opportunities schools are faced with amid COVID-19. Next.

    Alexander Morse  01:36

    I’m here with Anita Murphy, district superintendent for the Capital Region BOCES. She’ll be here to discuss with us their response and school budget responses to COVID-19. But before we get there, as I mentioned, at the top of the podcast, you’ve started your career as a teacher and advanced to administrative roles. So that gives you the benefit having perspective on both roles. Why is that important in a time like this?

    Anita Murphy  02:00

    I started as a teacher, I’ve sat in a bunch of different administrative roles in lots of different districts. Small cities, Binghamton and Albany; large city, Syracuse and Rochester, was a superintendent in a small rural district, not small by, I guess, some people’s count. But after you spend your life in the big cities going to a small rural district, I think it’s a very different perspective. I think all those perspectives helped me as the leader of the region, the district superintendent, with my 24 districts that virtually mirror every place that I have been, understand what they’re faced with right now, what they’re trying to do with their budgets, and maintain an understanding of the importance of a teacher in a classroom or in this way, virtually. As well as the perspective of a superintendent that’s trying to balance a budget in very different circumstances. All of my districts, all 24, and the BOCES, I think, have top of mind making sure that we’re programming effectively and efficiently for the children that sit in our districts. Right now, that’s more than just academic programming, that’s ensuring that kids have social and emotional supports that they need, that they have the health supports that they need, and that they have opportunities that they need for workforce development. I think if you’re not a teacher, if you didn’t start as a teacher, and if you hadn’t worked with kids and districts in a variety of roles, sometimes people struggle to understand why we’re doing what we’re doing. But I think that background gives me that perspective.

    Alexander Morse  03:49

    I’m sure that perspective and that background is helpful because we’re moving into some unprecedented challenges. COVID-19 is disrupting the entire US economy and that’s going to have trickle-down effects all through every level, including education. So as district superintendent, what are some of the different budgeting and planning challenges facing your school districts?

    Anita Murphy  04:11

    I think, it’s different in my different districts. When state aid gets caught in a district that is highly dependent on state aid, say in Albany or places like Watervliet that are very state aid dependent, it has a different impact than when state aid gets cut in places like my suburban school districts, like Bethlehem or Shenandehowa, because the later is funded primarily by taxpayers in the district, local tax base, and the former primarily by state aid. So a 10 percent cut in Watervliet is different than a 10 percent cut in Guilderland. That being said, my urban districts have been dealing with this for a long time because of the tax cap and the calculation of the tax cap, so everybody is feeling this. It’s just from different mechanisms. We really don’t talk about cutting budgets, we talk about rightsizing budgets in a way that is most efficient and effective for the kids in those systems.

    Alexander Morse  05:22

    You mentioned you have 24 school districts, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach, you need to cater to each individual school.

    Anita Murphy  05:30

    Each district has its own unique needs. I have rural districts in Schoharie County that have markedly different needs and budgeting implications as we enter COVID than say, Shenandehowa. Shenandehowa doesn’t have one physics teacher, some of my rural districts may have one physics teacher. If you talk about rightsizing in one place, you could be talking about cutting a whole program versus rightsizing in another place where there’s no implications for kids. What we try to do, I think, what we have done as a region, we’re trying to stay as far away from the classroom as we can, but still giving our kids those things that are going to make them successful in 2020 and beyond. We understand that our kids have to compete now with kids from across the country, across the world, for spots in colleges and universities. We’ve done a lot of focus on workforce development in this region. Our career and technical education programs region-wide are growing because there is an understanding that all kids may not want to go to college. You don’t cut those things that help support kids and our local economies. I think that’s what the districts have been doing as a strategy, really thinking about where they can deal with the COVID crisis and maintain everything that their kids need to compete in a global economy going forward.

    Alexander Morse  07:07

    You’ve touched on that different districts have different concerns and that you’re trying to address, which of these districts will experience the greatest challenges implementing some of these large-scale changes? For example, moving to virtual learning?

    Anita Murphy  07:21

    I will tell you, this region has done an outstanding job with that. Let me tell you three things that are important about the Capital District. One, we started planning for reopening before we closed. Weeks and weeks before we closed, when we knew that it was a potential, the 24 school districts together started planning on reopening and how we would do that. Two, we planned on how we closed and what we did together so that we didn’t have districts with advantages and districts with disadvantages. As an example, we created a website called Essential Education for teachers, that helps give them planning tools for planning standards-based lessons with kids. My districts are very gracious, we have opened that up to every teacher in the state. Any teacher in the state can go on this website, they can look at third grade, they can say this is where my kids are, and there are supports for them to plan lessons. We know that everybody was in different places with distance learning and the use of computers. My region planned, for example, the deployment of technology together. Feeding kids, childcare, all done with all 24. If a district say at first was having trouble getting meals, other districts were pitching in and helping. If districts were having trouble with securing childcare, we ran point centrally as a BOCES, working with our local childcare council to make sure that anybody who was an essential worker had childcare if they needed that. We did the same thing with meal planning as with the educational planning. They’re helping each other every day with anything, name it, soup to nuts. We also have a committee that’s been working for weeks and weeks and weeks on reopening. We’ve produced a guidance document that all the districts are using. We have a group of superintendents planning each of the operational parts of reopening. We’re planning for all potential scenarios. If we can, and we hope we can, open in the fall with all kids, that’s planned. If it’s hybrid, that’s planned. If it’s virtual, that’s planned. We bought devices to help our districts and did coordinated computer purchasing and Chromebook purchasing. I think it shouldn’t matter where your zip code is. It shouldn’t matter where you live. This region has really believed and continues to believe that 24 working together is a whole lot more powerful than 24 having to do it all on their own.

    Alexander Morse  10:15

    Speaking of that, is that a unique advantage that the Capital Region BOCES schools have over other school districts?

    Anita Murphy  10:21

    Well, I think it depends on what part of the state. I think I have two things that some other BOCES do. I have very seasoned superintendents in this region. In some of my districts, longtime superintendents, been in a lot of different places and we have brand new superintendents, first superintendent. We have, I think, an advantage in that we have a good mix of folks. I have a very strong team here that has been running point. We have our assistant superintendents are meeting when this started every day, now it’s three times a week. Our business officials meet three times a week. Our directors of technology meet three times a week. Our communications professionals meet three times a week. It’s not just the superintendents, it’s really penetrated. Like I said, we have teachers, 200 teachers, every two weeks working on these planning documents for other teachers. Because I think we’ve done a good job coordinating efforts, and because the leaders are here that are here in the Capital District. I’m sure that other places are doing good work too, we just happen to know about ours. I have a massive communications department and our communications department really has been the linchpin to all of this getting done, I think in that way.

    Alexander Morse  11:44

    Sounds like preparation, planning, everything involved, just from the beginning. You mentioned you had to plan for reopening before you even closed schools.

    Anita Murphy  11:52

    That’s right.

    Alexander Morse  11:52

    That requires a lot of discipline and foresight.

    Anita Murphy  11:55

    I think so. I think it’s about strategy here. I am a firm believer, if you’re chasing your tail, you’re never going to see your nose. And so probably there have been some wasted things that we planned that we didn’t need to do. But I would rather be over-planned than under-planned. That’s for sure. We ordered our PPE together for the 24 districts. We started ordering those things in the first week of closure, thinking this could take a while. We know PPE is not in large supply. So if we’re eight weeks out with ordering PPE because we planned on it and ordered it before anybody said, “Oh my, you’re going to need PPE for everybody,” we would be eight weeks behind. Now we’re eight weeks ahead.

    Alexander Morse  12:45

    It’s really impressive.

    Anita Murphy  12:46

    Thank you, I think we’ve done a really good job. I am extraordinarily proud of my team here at Capital Region BOCES. And really proud of the superintendents in this region, and our central office staff, and our teachers. Our teachers and our staff developers right now are working on summer enrichment for parents and kids. That, again, will open up to everybody in the state, any parent who wants summer enrichment, and they’ll be themed around a theme for the week. A week at the zoo and we have virtual field trips. We have educators curating things. This is meant to keep kids away from a screen, cooking lessons, but all with an academic undertone so that parents and families can enrich children’s educational experiences. That wouldn’t be possible without our teachers. That wouldn’t be possible without my staff development staff. That wouldn’t be possible without coordination. I’m really proud of the folks in this region. The Capital District has really stood up here.

    Alexander Morse  13:50

    It also sets the foundation for the future of learning. I know that virtual learning is probably going to be in the forefront moving forward. So you’re really setting yourself up for success there.

    Anita Murphy  14:01

    I think the other thing though, I’m pretty sure that no educator believes that this can take the place of a teacher in a classroom with children, especially our young children. But it certainly can supplement what we do every day. I think it’s a mechanism for us to understand that some kids learn differently and sometimes kids that schools haven’t been able to engage, those kids are now engaged in this for lots of reasons. Again, I don’t think that any educator believes that the future of education is sitting in front of a screen all day with 30 other kids sitting in front of a screen, but it sure can help with enrichment and it sure can help with helping to catch kids up, and it sure can help with kids that have to be home for a variety of reasons, and it sure can help when you end up with a situation like this. Our teachers have done phenomenal work. I’ll be very honest with you, everybody wants our kids back. We want our kids back. We want to be able to look them in the face. We want that day-to-day contact with our children.

    Alexander Morse  15:16

    I think we all do. I think we all want to get back to where we were.

    Anita Murphy  15:19

    Can I just say one other thing?

    Alexander Morse  15:21

    Yes, of course.

    Anita Murphy  15:22

    I think we have to look at this situation, the whole situation, not as a problem but as a solution to a problem. The reason I think we’ve been able to do what we have done—our teachers, our administrators, our principals—is because in the worst of times, there’s always something good that can come out of it. We’ve been looking at the good in this. It’s been horrible, right? It’s horrible for kids. It’s horrible for adults. But we’ve looked for the silver lining through this and I think we found it. I appreciate that you’ve given us the opportunity to talk about that silver lining.

    Alexander Morse  16:02

    We could all use some good news.

    Anita Murphy  16:04

    I agree. I agree.

    Alexander Morse  16:11

    Thanks again to Anita Murphy, Capital Region BOCES district superintendent, for coming on today to discuss the challenges and opportunities her schools and schools around the state face. Although there’s uncertainty that doesn’t stop Anita or her colleagues from planning to ensure students, families, teachers, and staff are prepared for what’s next. You can check out the Capital Region BOCES resource for K-12 educators to support remote learning by visiting The website has educational resources and lessons mapped to priority curriculum standards for K-8 math and ELA, middle school science and social studies, and Regents courses. You can also check out the reopening guide for the Capital Region BOCES. Links are posted in the description. Stay well and stay safe. I’m Alex Morse. Until next time.

    Alexander Morse  17:20

    Policy Outsider is presented by the Rockefeller Institute of Government, the public policy research arm at the State University of New York. The Institute conducts cutting edge nonpartisan public policy research and analysis to inform lasting solutions to the challenges facing New York State and the nation. Learn more at or by following RockefellerInst on social media. Have a question, comment, or idea? Email us at [email protected].

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