Thursday, June 15, 2006

2 top schools cheat students on AP test fees

NY Daily News
2 top schools cheat students on AP test fees

Two of the city's most elite high schools - Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech - cheated their poorest students out of thousands of dollars by wrongly charging them for Advanced Placement exams, investigators revealed yesterday.

A third top school, Bronx High School of Science, made the same mistake, but gave refunds to kids after discovering the error, its principal said.

Bronx Science's decision was in stark contrast to Brooklyn Tech, where Principal Lee McCaskill - who quit his job amid an unrelated scandal in February - allegedly said refunding students' money would be too difficult.

"I was horrified," said Peggy Blau, the Brooklyn Tech administrator who blew the whistle on McCaskill - launching a probe by special schools investigator Richard Condon.

"For many of these kids, [test fees] are a tremendous hardship, especially in their senior year when they have many expenses like ... the prom, the ring, the yearbook. To add to that a couple of hundred dollars for AP exams when they can't afford them is criminal."

A high score on the tests can translate into college credit for many students. To make sure all kids can afford to take the exams, the state has a program to subsidize the $52 fee for low-income students.

Last year, Blau already had collected fees from her students when she learned the state had written a check directly to the test maker for her low-income kids. When McCaskill refused to refund the money to the kids, she reported him, she said.

Investigators said Brooklyn Tech owes $76,678 to low-income students who have taken 1,511 exams since 2002. At Stuyvesant, kids are owed $71,000 for tests taken since 2002, Condon said.

A Stuyvesant administrator told investigators that the school needed the cash to pay for exam chairs and proctors.

Stuyvesant officials referred questions yesterday to city Education Department spokeswoman Margie Feinberg, who said all eligible students will get refunds.

"We will make sure that this doesn't happen again," Feinberg said.

Bronx Science Principal Valerie Reidy already had started issuing refunds. "We caught it on our own," she said. "We've issued about 200 checks."

McCaskill resigned in February after an investigation by Condon's office found that the principal had lied under oath and forged documents in a failed bid to hide his New Jersey address so his daughter could attend a city school.

McCaskill did not return calls yesterday.