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School funding, Regents diplomas are among the topics at a Rochester forum

Teacher Paul Conrow at Thursday night's forum at East High School
James Brown
Teacher Paul Conrow at Thursday night's forum at East High School

School funding was on the minds of some people attending the latest public input session about Distinguished Educator Jamie Aquino’s report on the Rochester City School District.

The report, released last fall, asks for a total reset in district management, finances and educational outcomes.

About 50 people joined Aquino, New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and two local regents, T. Andrew Brown and Wade Norwood, at East High School Thursday night.

Aquino says that residents and the media have repeatedly asked him about extra funding for city schools. Last night was no different. His answer remains steadfast, more money is not needed to improve the city school district. 

“What I found was the situation at the district and the performance of your students was not because of lack of funding.”

Aquino says that Rochester’s city school district spends about $33,000 per student which he says is much more per pupil than other districts like Los Angeles, which spends about $9,000 per student.

Another issue brought up Thursday night was giving school districts the ability to offer different types of diplomas, such as a local diploma as opposed to a Regents diploma.

Josh Mack, a graduation coach at Edison Tech and Paul Conrow, who teaches optics at East High School talked about those options.  They say that a local diploma allowed students who passed coursework but were not successful in Regents exams to get high school diplomas. Conrow says that New York state’s move to Regents exams in 2001 hurt a generation of kids.

“I think we’ve created this artificial standard that if we make everybody available to take Regents exams we’re going to have smarter people. And I think that’s a fallacy because most of the decision makers have not been outside of the industry of education.”

When asked about additional tracks to graduation like the local diploma, Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said it’s in the works.

“Over the last three years the regents have voted and approved a number of changes in graduation requirements. One of them was specifically referenced here. That is providing multiple pathways to graduation," Elia said.

A response to full response to Aqunio’s report is expected from the Rochester City School Board on February 8th.

James Brown is a reporter with WXXI News. James previously spent a decade in marketing communications, while freelance writing for CITY Newspaper. While at CITY, his reporting focused primarily on arts and entertainment.