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Magnet school at Fountaindale on hold

May 22, 2002|BY TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Board of Education put an arts and academics magnet program proposed for Fountaindale Elementary School on hold Tuesday night, asking Interim Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan to make sure funding will be available for the project.

School officials and parents proposed the program to attract gifted students to the high-poverty school. The program, called Fountaindale School for Arts and Academic Excellence, would cost about $200,000.

That includes nearly $49,000 each to pay the salary and benefits of two new teachers, $40,000 in musical equipment, $25,000 in instructional materials and $10,000 in staff development programs.

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Morgan said some of the funding would come out of this year's budget through adjustments, and the rest would come from the proposed fiscal 2003 budget.

The School Board voted 6-0 to endorse the idea, but didn't want to commit to the program until the funding situation is straightened out. It would be the first magnet program for the school system.

"If it can work and we have the money, we'll do it," School Board member J. Herbert Hardin said.

School Board Vice President Bernadette Wagner said an anticipated tight fiscal 2003 budget might make it hard to fund the magnet school.

"It might be difficult to justify starting a new program at this time," she said.

Forty students from other schools throughout the county would have to apply and meet certain criteria to enroll in the school.

The regular kindergarten through fifth-grade program would remain at the school, but a science and math lab would be added, along with programs for the academically gifted and for students who have talents in fine arts.

Principal Elaine Semler said eight of the school's students qualify for the magnet program and that the remaining 32 students would come from other schools.

"We're trying to pull the community into our school," she said.

In January, Fountaindale parents demanded the School Board come up with a way to balance the socioeconomic make-up of the school after the board rejected a proposal that would have added students from a more affluent neighborhood to Fountaindale.

"We have to keep in mind that this came about as a result of redistricting," Morgan said at a Tuesday morning meeting. "We needed to redistrict in order to balance the socioeconomic composition of that school."

According to statistics, 49.2 percent of Fountaindale's students received free and reduced meals in the 2001 school year, up from 45.5 percent in 2000.

Public Information Officer Carol Mowen said 57 percent of the school's students are white, 36 percent are black, 5 percent are Hispanic and 2 percent are Asian/Pacific Islander.

"The general perception is this is something that we really want," Fountaindale parent Jim Chevalier said of the magnet program. "There is support across the board for this."

Chevalier also was a member of the Magnet School Steering Committee, which drafted the proposal.

Morgan said she's optimistic the school system will find the money to pay for the program. She said not receiving full-funding from the county for next school year's budget is causing the financial hang-up.

"If we received full-funding, it wouldn't have been a difficulty," she said.

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