Lack of funds kills plans for magnet schools

Superintendent tells staff to abandon issue for now

Focus was on arts, math, science

System fails to get money, grants from government

Anne Arundel

April 23, 2004|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

An effort championed by some local officials to establish magnet schools in Anne Arundel County for students with talents in the arts, math and science has fizzled because of a lack of funds.

Superintendent Eric J. Smith directed his staff last week to abandon a planning process in the works since September.

Smith said he failed to garner financial assistance from the cash-strapped county and state governments. And he recently learned that Anne Arundel was ineligible for a federal grant used to create magnet schools in other counties.

"It's not that the issue's dead," Smith said yesterday. "It just didn't seem productive for [the] staff to continue to pursue it without some indication that funding would be likely."

County and state officials applauded the magnet schools idea when Smith floated it last fall, he said. But no one committed to fund them.

County Executive Janet S. Owens said the state of the economy has made it impossible for the county to pitch in at this time.

"It's so unfortunate, because I think both [arts and math/science] magnet schools would be an enormous asset to our kids," said Owens, who spoke publicly about bringing such schools to Anne Arundel after her 2002 re-election.

Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, who was supportive of the possibility of an arts magnet school in the city, said she disagreed with Smith's decision to stop planning. She also said there were many unanswered questions about the proposal.

"There's no crystal ball that says no funding is going to be there [in future years]," she said. "I don't know why the conversations and the planning ... can't go on."

Although Smith's decision to pull back was based on funding, there are other hurdles.

School board President Paul Rudolph said the board would first need to discuss the pros and cons of magnet schools and create a policy for establishing such schools.

Even then, Rudolph said, he would oppose having a math and science magnet school because of concerns that "we would take the best students [away] from the other schools."

School officials estimate it would cost $11 million to establish a magnet school for the visual and performing arts for 600 to 800 high school students in an existing building.

The expenses would include converting the building into dance rooms, a performing arts center, smaller "black-box" theaters and art studios with special lighting and ventilation.

There also would be costs to transport youngsters from throughout the county and for intensive staff development "to keep teachers on the cutting edge," said Karl Behringer, an administrator who led the planning.

An estimate for the math and science magnets was unavailable. Planners said they were studying the possibility of establishing them at several existing high schools, with each program having an emphasis such as environmental or computer science.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.