School board won't change tech magnet

More time needed to study problems, members agree

Prized program limited

Parents question cost of transporting students to 2 schools

Board to study magnet program

September 07, 2001|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

The technology magnet program will remain unchanged at River Hill and Long Reach high schools, at least until school board members can study the recent spate of criticism that has welled up in the community about it.

Howard County school board members discussed the future of the school system's prized technology program last night and decided by consensus that they needed more time to evaluate its pros and cons before changing it.

Parents have complained to board members about a lack of seats in the program for all who want to attend, and a lack of space in the schools that house it.

Currently, 250 students are selected each year by lottery. Students in the tech magnet program attend Long Reach and River Hill - both of which are crowded, and getting more so.

Some parents have questioned the high cost of transportation to accommodate the students enrolled in tech magnet. Others wondered if more couldn't be done in the program to meet the needs of students desiring vocational training.

"There's lots of opinions about the tech magnet and they cover a wide range," said Superintendent John R. O'Rourke. "And any changes would require a great deal of study and involve a large number of constituents."

O'Rourke had asked school staff members to prepare a fact sheet for last night's meeting about the program and the costs, benefits and challenges of moving it to different schools, or housing it in all 11 high schools.

But the information, though useful as a start, board members said, wasn't enough to make a decision about whether to move or change the program.

"If the program is working, and moving it would require major changes to the program, I would have to vote for leaving it as it is," said board member Patricia S. Gordon.

"This is something that's going to take time," board member Laura Waters said.

Questions about vocational training and the scarcity of seats for all interested students have swirled around the magnet program since its inception in 1995. But the latest issues - regarding transportation and lack of space in the schools to house the existing program - were brought to light in recent weeks by the work of a citizens committee helping to devise plans for next year's high school redistricting.

The Boundary Lines Advisory Committee - in its attempt to relocate students equitably - unearthed a little-known consequence of the magnet program: As high schools grew more and more crowded, magnet slots edged out neighborhood students from their home schools.

The committee had asked the school board if it could consider relocating the magnet program to free space for redistricting into the two high schools where it is housed, especially after hearing from vocal River Hill parents who all but demanded removal of the program if neighborhood children would end up being redistricted to other high schools because of space constraints.

"It was a planning solution that we wanted to be able to use," said committee co-chair Mary Kay Sigaty. But in hindsight, Sigaty said, "it was wishful thinking that they would move tech magnet at this point."

Board Chairwoman Jane B. Schuchardt said she has had major concerns about the configuration of the tech magnet program for several years. She said she wants the program to be housed at all high schools, instead of just two, opening it up for more interested students and reducing class time lost in busing students from all over the county to Long Reach or River Hill.

"If I had my druthers, they would go back to their home school and it would be like the vo-tech," she said.

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