Lottery to fill magnet program Board action means 357 applicants will be rejected

February 28, 1997|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Howard County eighth-graders hoping to enroll in the new technology magnet program next fall will learn their fate Wednesday afternoon under a lottery plan approved last night by the school board.

The plan means that 357 of the 607 applicants won't be allowed into the program in the fall.

And, -- in a new twist -- students who live in the Long Reach and River Hill high school districts, which have the program, also will have to compete for spots through a lottery.

The board also recommended last night that the county Zoning Board not rezone 527 acres in North Laurel to allow a Columbia-style village, saying the Rouse Co. proposal would produce more new students than high schools can handle.

In setting up the lottery, board members sought to resolve the problem of what to do with the intense student interest in the first-year magnet program.

The program, designed for students of all abilities, is meant to be a rigorous, high-tech replacement for the vocational-technical program.

Student interest in the program for next fall exceeds the space available at Long Reach and River Hill. Two weeks ago, the board narrowly rejected a plan to accommodate all those interested by adding two high schools to the program.

Instead, board members decided that enrollment would be decided by lottery. They also voted to guarantee that the program's introductory courses would be offered at the eight other county high schools, ensuring that students still interested in the program could transfer into it in the 11th grade if there was room.

Under the lottery plan, 100 spaces are set aside in Long Reach and 100 more in River Hill for eighth-graders who live outside those districts. That means that 174 applicants who live east of U.S. 29 and 98 who live west of U.S. 29 won't be selected.

The plan also calls for using the lottery to choose which students in the Long Reach and River Hill districts will be able to enroll in the program. Twenty-five spaces will be set aside in each school for them, which means that 57 Long Reach applicants and 28 River Hill applicants won't be picked.

The lottery will be held Wednesday at 3 p.m. in the Department of Education building in Ellicott City. Letters inviting all eighth-grade applicants and their parents to attend were to be mailed last night.

The lottery also will produce a waiting list, and every time a space opens in the magnet program over the next four years, it will be offered to the next student on the list, school officials said.

The lottery proposal has upset many parents and students, who say the school system ought to find a way to select students based on whether they are interested in the program or just want to attend school in a new building.

Board members defended the lottery last night as the fairest way to select students.

"I know that many of you say the lottery is not fair, but from a self-esteem point of view, I would rather lose in an anonymous lottery than to hear someone say, 'You don't cut the mustard,' " said Chairwoman Sandra French.

Board members said they were concerned that Rouse's North Laurel project would add too many students to high schools, which already are projected to be crowded over the next decade.

The mixed-use development -- near Interstate 95, Route 216 and Gorman Road -- would be about half as big as a Columbia village, with hundreds of single-family and multifamily homes, business and office space, and a recreation area. The land is now zoned for business.

The school system predicts that the completed project would add 325 elementary students, 152 middle school students and 188 high school students.

There is likely to be enough space for the elementary and middle school students in that area of the county, but there won't be enough room for the additional high school students, school officials said. By 2007, the county's high schools are projected to be 2,083 students over capacity even without the North Laurel project.

The school system's plans call for an 11th high school open in nearby Fulton in 2002. But county officials have said -- and school board members have acknowledged -- that it is all but certain the new high school won't be built because the county can't afford the $30 million cost.

French said she would oppose the North Laurel project unless county officials could guarantee funding for the new high school.

Rouse's plan, which has drawn community opposition because of such concerns as traffic, is scheduled for a hearing before the county Planning Board March 12. It then goes back to the Zoning Board for final approval.

If it is approved, construction would begin in 1999.

Pub Date: 2/28/97

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