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11 CMS Magnet Programs on Chopping Block

http://66.225.205.104/SO20080905.mp3

The idea behind magnets is to encourage a mix of races and ethnicities across economic levels. Parents choose to send their kids to these specialized programs and not neighborhood schools. And this means cross-town school bus trips. High gas prices prompted the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools board in the spring to take a closer look at its magnet programs. CMS got feedback from parents on the overall magnet program this summer. The most common concern raised was the lack of diversity in students participating in magnet programs. District three board member George Dunlap argues diversity is not necessarily an indicator of academic success. He says, "You've got Highland Mills. You've got Statesville Road. And the list goes on and on. You've got schools that are highly successful that don't meet the diversity criteria." An overwhelming number of minority students is enrolled in most of the magnet programs. Two programs have no white students. Most of these schools are concentrated in the center city, where an excess amount of space was available after busing ended in 2002. Associate Superintendent Ann Clark says magnet programs were planned around how much room there was in the district's schools. "We looked at existing facilities and those facilities that had space to accommodate an additional program beyond the students assigned at that school," she says. "If that's still the main reason that the magnet is there, in my mind it needs to go away. We need to be thinking about academic achievement first and foremost," says At-Large board member Trent Merchant. He says about half of the magnet programs can be eliminated. CMS recommends eliminating the programs at the 11 schools for several reasons, including limited or no distinction between them and traditional academic programs. The district also recommends keeping 16 in place, while the rest will be up for modification or discussion. The board is expected to vote on changes in the magnet program in October.