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Gary Bixhorn, BOCES exec and top school advocate, steps down

Gary D. Bixhorn, chief operating officer of Eastern

Gary D. Bixhorn, chief operating officer of Eastern Suffolk BOCES says the school has to charge students in the program the same tuition we charge in the [BOCES] center. (Nov. 24, 2010) Credit: James Carbone

Gary Bixhorn, an Eastern Suffolk BOCES executive and one of Long Island's top school advocates, announced his resignation Monday night.

Bixhorn, who is 59, will step down in January as chief operating officer of the state's largest regional Board of Cooperative Educational Services. His successor will be Julie Lutz, 52, now the agency's deputy superintendent for educational services.

BOCES board members approved the administrative changeover at a monthly meeting Monday night in Patchogue.

In a phone interview after the meeting, Bixhorn expressed no regrets over his decision to step down after 35 years as an administrator at BOCES and in the local districts of Half Hollow Hills and Northport-East Northport. Rather, he said that the move was due largely to personal considerations, and that he had thoroughly enjoyed his career in a field where several family members also served.

"Education has been important to us for as long as I can remember," said Bixhorn, who grew up in Great Neck and whose wife, Nancy, was a longtime math teacher in East Williston before her death in 2009. "If I had it all to do over again, I'd do it in exactly the same way."

In recent years, Bixhorn has emerged as the region's leading analyst of financial trends in education -- particularly the impact of state tax caps that have tightened limits on revenues from school property taxes. Surveys that he conducted of more than 100 Island districts in 2011-12 and 2012-13 were a pioneering effort to measure the impact of tighter budgets on class sizes, teaching jobs and extracurricular activities.

"He has a wealth of knowledge that other educators count on," said Lisa Israel, 57, of Greenport, the current president of the Eastern Suffolk BOCES board, who has worked with Bixhorn for 19 years. Dean Lucera, who is completing his second year as the agency's superintendent, will remain in that position.

Bixhorn served as superintendent of Eastern Suffolk BOCES from 2002 to 2005, but then returned to his former job as the agency's No. 2 executive. The reason: Retaining the top job would have required him to take a pay cut of nearly 40 percent, due to a cap on BOCES superintendents' salaries imposed by state lawmakers.

The legislative action in 1993 followed a public uproar over a retirement payout of nearly $1 million to another BOCES chief on the Island.

Under the cap, the current salary limit for BOCES superintendents statewide is $166,762. Bixhorn's salary is $262,000.

Eastern Suffolk BOCES provides regional services, including special education and occupation training, for 51 local districts in Islip, Brookhaven and the East End, and to other districts elsewhere in the state. The agency's annual budget is more than $290 million, and it enrolls more than 5,600 students, both teenagers and adults.

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