November 15, 2012
The Guilford County Board of Education on Thursday, Nov. 8, voted 7 to 2 to allow students to opt out of some magnet schools – a move designed to save Guilford County Schools
In doing so, the school board rejected a recommendation by Guilford County Schools
administration to discontinue all magnet opt-outs, which would have saved the school system $254,968 in transportation costs.
The proposal was among seven transportation programs for magnet schools that the school administration came up with in response to an Oct. 25 request by the school board.Guilford County Schools
is projected to spend about $509,000 during the 2012-2013 school year to transport 407 students to opt-out schools outside their attendance zones if their neighborhood school is a magnet school they don't want to attend. That's an average of $1,239 per student.
The option of being bused to alternate schools elsewhere in the county was required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, from which North Carolina was exempted beginning this year.
The documents provided to the school board on Thursday can be used to roughly calculate how much Guilford County is spending a year to bus students to magnet schools. The $509,000 is merely the cost of busing students who want to escape specific magnet schools and go to schools elsewhere in the county. The cost of transporting students to magnet schools is much higher.
According to the documents, Guilford County Schools
, out of its 72,000 students, has 5,772 students attending magnet schools. If each student costs $1,239 a year to transport, Guilford County Schools
is spending about $7 million a year to transport students to magnet schools.
Busing students to magnet schools is less efficient than busing them to normal schools, because of the small numbers of students going to each magnet school and the long distances many of them have to travel. Guilford County Schools
spends about $30 million a year on transportation – which means that almost one quarter of the Guilford County Schools
transportation budget is spent busing students to magnet schools
Magnet schools are specialized schools that draw students from across the county, rather than from geographic attendance zones. They offer programs in global studies, science, technology, Spanish, Mandarin, art, leadership and aviation, and in some cases use specific teaching methods, such as Montessori education.Guilford County Schools
now has 17 magnet elementary schools and 10 magnet middle schools. Another magnet school is proposed for the now-empty Allen Jay Middle School in High Point.
Some school board members, including Darlene Garrett, have complained for years about the cost of transporting kids to magnet schools. Some have suggested shutting down the magnet schools that are not performing well.
The issue of magnet school transportation costs came to a head this year because, through the 2011-12 school year, a magnet school that was a Title I school had to offer the ability to opt out of the magnet school under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Because the magnet schools that parents were opting out of were generally lousy, the cost of transporting the opt-out students was paid with federal Title I funds.
In January 2012, the Board of Education decided to exercise "local flexibility" under the No Child Left Behind Act waiver granted to North Carolina, freeing it from most of the federal penalties for having bad schools.
This school year, the school board allowed opting out only of schools that were performing badly. Based on this decision, federal funds can no longer be used to transport magnet opt-out students after the 2012-2013 school year – meaning the school system will have to pick up the tab.
The net result was, although transporting students to magnet schools was already eating up a large chunk of the school board's transportation budget, school board members drew the line at picking up the tab for a relatively small number of students whose parents opt out of lousy magnet schools.
The administration of Guilford County School Superintendent Mo Green, at the school board's request, came up with seven options for dealing with the cost of children whose parents don't want them going to a nearby magnet school. In the end, the discussion came down to two options.
The first was the option recommended by the administration – to stop letting parents opt out of any magnet schools. The administration proposal also would have allowed Triangle Lake Montessori School in High Point to accept students who move into its school zone at all grade levels. The school now only accepts students through second grade, meaning kids who move into the neighborhood after that can't enter the trendy Montessori program but are bused to another school.
The option that was approved by the school board is more complicated and would save the school system $53,000 less, and will allow parents to opt out of very specialized magnet schools they don't want their children to attend.
Under the school board approved plan, Guilford County Schools
will identify magnet programs "where daily classroom instruction differs dramatically" from regular schools. It's not hard to spot such schools. One example is that Jones Elementary School in Greensboro and Kirkman Park Elementary School in High Point offer Spanish immersion magnet programs – which is useless to parents who don't want their children immersed in Spanish.
Parents will be able to opt out of the schools that are identified as having dramatically different teaching under the plan the school board approved. Guilford County Schools
will provide transportation only for opt-out students from those magnet schools.
The decision on what to do about the cost of magnet school opt-out transportation was another school board motion-palooza.
School board member Carlvena Foster kicked off the process by making a motion to approve providing transportation only for students opting out of schools with radically different curriculums. School board member Ed Price seconded the motion.
School board member Amos Quick, offered a substitute motion to continue the school board's current practice of allowing neighborhood kids to opt out of all magnet schools. Quick said, "I think there are other areas that we can find these savings other than to impact families this way."
School board member Jeff Belton seconded Quick's substitute motion.
School board member Nancy Routh spoke in favor of the option the school board eventually chose, saying the administration's recommendation would cause more confusion among parents. She said, "I don't think there's a clear understanding that this would be the last year of opting out under No Child Left Behind."
Foster said her main concerns were Triangle Lake and middle schools like Wellborn Middle School, where enrollment is down because students are now opting out of the school.
In 2008, the school board voted to keep Triangle Lake a "pure" Montessori school by not adding a regular school program in the building for neighborhood kids to attend. The result was that 114 neighborhood students who weren't in the Montessori program were bused to Colfax Elementary, which had low enrollment....continued on page 2