Magnet schools out of rezoning

Published March 8, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - The hot-button issue of school boundary rezoning cooled a bit Tuesday, after the Hernando County School Board voted to take the question of magnet schools off the table.

By a 3-2 margin, the board voted to let a rezoning committee focus on redrawing zones to accommodate a new elementary school, and not to consider the possibility of partially rezoning the district's three magnet schools for neighborhood enrollment.

School Services director James Knight had told the board he considered resigning his chairmanship of the committee over the "hysteria" of a board proposal to consider changing magnet procedures.

"The parents who have children in the magnet schools are nervous," Knight said, predicting a year's worth of heated meetings. "I felt the original job we were given was to set boundaries, and I don't know if we're ever going to get there."

Board members said parents' worries about the looming demise of the county's magnet programs were unfounded.

Board member Diane Bonfield, who voted against the measure along with John Sweeney, said she had intended only to find out how many neighborhood children might be eligible to attend magnet schools at Chocachatti Elementary, Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics and Nature Coast Technical High School.

"It makes good practice not to bus kids hither and yon when they live within a half-mile of a school," she said. "It is for those students that I'm speaking."

But board member Jim Malcolm said it was time for a vote, after months of uncertainty that threatened to derail rezoning. "Don't mess with what works," he said, referring to the magnet programs. "I think it's time that we put an end to the debate."

But he said Wednesday that the board should take a closer look at its admissions requirements and other aspects of magnet schools. Now half of students are admitted to the schools with a portfolio application, and the other half enter through a lottery.

"I think there are questions out there in terms of how the portfolio operates - is it too subjective? - and how the lottery works," Malcolm said. "Maybe it's time to get an update on what we envisioned."

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or 352 848-1431.