Magnet school meeting attracts hundreds

March 4, 2011 10:22:01 AM PST
Houston ISD is expecting to lose $200 million because of the state's budget problems. Hundreds of parents, students and community members crammed inside HISD's headquarters Thursday night for a special meeting about the future of magnet programs. The superintendent is proposing to end magnet program at some campuses to save money and that has a lot of people upset.

More than 120 people had signed up to speak before the board, and they each got two minutes to say what they wanted.

Many of the people at the meeting waited for hours to voice their opinion about a proposal regarding magnet programs in HISD.

The district, so far, is proposing continuing 84 magnet school programs, although 20 would have new themes; removing the program (or what they call "demagnetize") from 25 campuses; and adding 13 new programs at schools that currently don't have it. There will be reductions at other schools if they move forward with the current proposal.

Magnet programs at more than two dozen schools and hundreds of parents and students packed last night's school board meeting, which didn't end until almost midnight.

The district spends about $35 million on its 113 magnet schools. Magnet schools have high academic ratings and special college-readiness classes that allow students from outside normal boundary lines to attend those schools with free transportation. At last night's meeting, people were worried about the overall impact on the quality of education for students at those schools, while the superintendent maintained that the district had to keep its high standards for magnets.

Many of the students, teachers and parents at the meeting were really passionate about the magnet programs, which allow students to attend other schools that can really focus on specific gifts or talents.

"In my opinion, it looks like the money, the money will follow the children right out of the district, as they leave the district," said one parent.

"There are also high-achieving students of all backgrounds and races that need to be challenged to exceed their potential -- to develop and perfect their gifts, not simply achieve a minimum TAKS standard," one parent said.

The district also facing a projected $171 million budget shortfall, and they're looking at cutting many things, including police officers within the district, teachers and even requiring all schools to start at the same time; currently, the district has 19 different start times, so they think if they streamline that, it might cut costs.

Cost-cutting measures include: Requiring all schools to start and end at the same time- depending if they're an elementary, middle or high school. Right now, there are 19 different start times for the school day throughout the district.

The school board may also cut funding for every school by $275 per student. That's equal to $345,000 per campus or salaries for six and a half teachers, also up for board consideration, closing four elementary schools: Grimes, Love, McDade and Rhoads.

But many people at the meeting were mostly concerned with what will happen to the magnet programs.

"I along with many other students are living proof that magnet programs are not a waste of resources but are used to find our own individuality, creativity and success," one student told the board.

"Instead of dismantling successful programs, HISD should look at these programs as models to replicate in other areas to provide every student with the same opportunity," another HISD student said.

The district also is looking to Austin to see what state lawmakers do with the budget, which will have a major impact on what HISD does.

As far as the magnet programs, as one board member put it, this plan -- if it's implemented -- will drastically change the landscape at HISD.