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DISTRICT PREPARING FOR HIGHER STANDARDS

Preparing for state-ordered standardized Regents tests that will be required for a high school diploma by 2000, the West Seneca Central School District is upgrading its elementary school reading programs and comparing its Regents and advanced placement test results with other districts so that high school teachers can have a yardstick to measure their own performance.

The School Board Monday heard the first of seven elementary school presentations as Clinton Elementary staff explained how they are working for earlier "intervention" so that children do not fall behind in reading and writing skills. The aim is to make sure all pupils pass the standard tests mandated by the state at the third- and sixth-grade levels.

By using reading and writing to teach every subject -- as well as stressing phonics for those children who learn best that way -- a foundation should be laid for tougher high school standards being phased in now. High school Regents diplomas are now optional.

"Parents will have to assume more responsibility as the bar is raised," said West High School Principal James Brotz, explaining that test results for Regents and advanced placement students from similar-sized districts for the last four years have been issued to teachers. He said that information is "being seriously studied" by the teachers.

Questioned by Trustee Howard Avnet, East High School Principal Renee Goshin said: "We are also looking at changing from a 40-minute class period to block time of 80 minutes. We already offer Saturday Regents review classes."

Ms. Goshin also said that while some West Seneca high school graduates enter college with as many as 21 credits through the advanced placement programs, others fail the tests. "The real advantage is that they enter college with an idea of how college courses are taught, what the workload is," she said.

Brotz noted the disparity in advanced placement approvals for West Seneca students compared with students in some other districts. The figures were not made public.

"West Seneca has always been egalitarian," Brotz explained. "Anyone who asks can take an AP course, whether or not they fit a profile. Other districts are more rigorous in screening AP students."

The board also learned that the district is in good financial shape and operating both carefully and intelligently. "That's why this district has an A-1 bond rating," said Richard Phentner of Dopkins & Co., the district's auditors.

Only two municipalities in Erie County, Cheektowaga and Amherst, have A-1 bond ratings, said Fiscal Officer Brian Schulz, and no other school district is rated so high.

The district's assets are up to $190 million from $162 million in 1994, due to improvements to buildings and installation of new equipment. Debt also rose $17 million over the same period to pay for those upgrades and the current computerization program.

"But one piece of the asset picture is the general fund, and that's up, too" from $9,291,000 in 1994 to $12,471,000 today, with $10 million of that in cash, Phentner said.

He noted that much money was needed to tide the district over from the beginning of its fiscal year in June until the taxes start coming in during October.

West Seneca will spend about $64.6 million this year to educate 8,102 students. Local taxes provide $31.2 million, while $25.5 million comes from state aid, with another $7.9 million from other sources, including federal aid.

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