HISD magnet program changes put on hold

March 7, 2011 1:48:04 PM PST
There is a big win for parents and students who were against some proposed changes to the Houston school district's magnet program. HISD leaders have put their cost-cutting plans on hold for now. West University elementary is one of 25 schools that are still in jeopardy of losing its magnet programs. That won't happen for at least one year. So it offers temporary relief, but parents we spoke with are thinking more long-term.

Facing a $170 million plus shortfall HISD is juggling priorities and for now, balancing the budget has prevailed.

"We have to adopt a budget by June 30," said HISD spokesperson Jason Spencer.

Set aside for now are talks on the district's magnet programs.

Last week in front of a standing-room only crowd of parents, educators and students, HISD Superintendent Dr. Terry Grier came out with a proposal to "de-magnetize" 25 schools. Meaning their magnet programs would be cut, while continuing the magnets on 84 campuses. Dr. Grier says he plans to add 13 new programs in upcoming years.

It's a lot less drastic than an earlier proposal released by "Magnet Schools of America" in January, which recommended cutting out almost half of the district's magnet programs.

"This is the district's preliminary proposal," said Spencer. "We think it's a good starting point."

The district says cutting magnet programs isn't entirely about money but about efficiency. For example, West University Elementary math, science and computer magnet programs are on the chopping block because the school lacks capacity to accommodate enough non-neighborhood students. That is not good news for the parent of a second-grader enrolled in one of the programs.

"For the long term, I have other children who haven't started yet. we are trying to be commited to maintain our kids in public schools rather than going to a private school choices," said concerned parent Michael Dinius.

Following last Thursday's meeting, the district says it will take time to tweak Dr. Grier's plan and continue to accept community feedback.

Even parents like Tobey Forney who don't have students in the programs says prolonging the discussions are worthwhile, particularly when funding dollars are at stake.

"I hope they are considering all of the variables," said Forney. "I think there is a lot of input they need to consider. The more time they take the better."

The school board will meet today. The magnet issue was initially on the agenda but it has been removed.

The issue is not going away. It will likely be brought back to the table in September.