Magnet schools supported

March 15, 1995|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore County's magnet programs survived a threatened moratorium when the school board quietly sidestepped the issue last night.

Before a largely pro-magnet crowd could even express its support, board President Paul Cunningham made a brief statement dismissing the idea of a moratorium.

"The board will not at this time be engaging in any moratorium," he said. "The board, of course, does support the concept of magnet schools and the many fine programs that we have. We have asked the superintendent and his staff to immediately begin a thorough assessment of magnet schools."

The idea of placing a one-year moratorium on the magnet programs arose two weeks ago when board member Dunbar Brooks proposed it. Several members had expressed concern about the number and cost of magnet programs, which began about 18 months ago. This year, 7,000 students are enrolled in 16 magnet programs. Eight more are expected to open in September.

The proposal took school Superintendent Stuart Berger and some of the other board members by surprise. After the board defeated Mr. Brooks' proposal by a 5-4 vote, board members moved to put a moratorium on future magnet programs, and action on that proposal was tabled until last night.

Designed to desegregate racially isolated schools without busing or redistricting and to offer students more educational choices, magnet programs bring together students with common interests and concentrate on one or a few areas of study.

Despite criticism that magnets cost too much and drain resources from neighborhood schools, Dr. Berger remains committed to them. "I believe that the magnet schools are, without a doubt, one of the greatest things that have happened here. They have stabilized this county," he has said.

In other action, the board ruled out two potential sites for a new Sparks Elementary School and approved a capacity of 600 for the new school when it is built.

The board eliminated the site of the existing school, which was destroyed by fire Jan. 8, and the controversial Highlands site, opposed by many because of toxic wastes buried nearby.

As a result, planners said, it is unlikely that a new school will be built for two years, ending hopes that a replacement might be ready by September 1996.

School officials asked the board to scratch the site of the burned-out school on Sparks Road, just east of York Road, because it could not accommodate a larger building and because of well and septic system limitations.

The school had a capacity of 286 and an enrollment of just over 300 at the time of the fire. School officials want to replace it with a school for 600 to accommodate anticipated enrollments in the Sparks district and in three other elementary districts adjacent to it.

If Sparks is not enlarged, there will be 300 more students than desks in the four schools by 1999, building officials told the board.

The board accepted an insurance settlement of $3.4 million for the Sparks loss and gave school officials permission to pursue three more sites for the school. The locations were not disclosed.

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