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Paying for Regents Exams?

New York State is considering charging school districts for Regents exams. The proposal says it will cost $5.93 per student, a shocking number for local superintendents.

The proposal, which is being considered by the New York State Board of Regents, lists a sampling of six districts and how they will be affected by the change. The Syracuse school district is one of them.

The chart says, because the Syracuse school district has 20,606 students, the additional charge for Regents examinations would be $122,194.

Syracuse Deputy Superintendent Chris Vogelsang says it's just one more example of an unfunded mandate from the state. She says that fee is equivalent to a teacher and a half, during a time when the district is already making difficult decisions and dealing with a financial shortfall.

"We certainly would say that this is something we would strongly protest at this point," says Vogelsang. "I think most districts across the state would say the same thing, that this mandate makes no sense to shift the costs to the local level."

Suburban districts would also suffer. West Genesee Superintendent Christopher Brown says the mandate would likely cost that district $30,000.

If the proposal is accepted, he expects the money would just be eliminated from the district's share of state aid. That would mean more cuts in the budget.

"We've done a very good job over the past few years of making reductions that really only affect the adults," says Brown. "This is one of those situations in New York state when I think anything we do will finally impact students."

East Syracuse-Minoa Superintendent Donna DeSiato says it's time to start thinking about new ways to administer these tests.

"We're doing online banking these days," says DeSiato. "We can certainly come up with an assessment that can be given online using computers and technology that would be available, and needs to be available, for students."

DeSiato says she'd like to see state officials come up with more creative ways of testing that would incorporate more modern technology. She says rethinking the how the Regents system works could help it become more cost-effective.

Jonathan Burman, a spokesperson for the New York State Education Department, stresses charging districts for Regents exams is only a proposal at this point. He says, "In light of the state's dire fiscal situation, the Regents are thinking about various actions they can take proactively to the ensure the continued viability of our Regents exam testing program."

The Board of Regents is also considering other proposals, including eliminating some exams. It has requested $15 million from the state for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

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