Westerville News & Public Opinion

Looking at lottery-based schools

Magnet program lives at Hanby, Emerson

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

The Hanby and Emerson magnet schools will remain open for current students, who will be in third through fifth grades next year, for the 2013-14 school year.

The Westerville City School District sent letters to parents of magnet students last week announcing the decision, which the district said was part of the directive made by the school board last month calling off the redrawing of elementary attendance boundaries.

"On March 18, 2013, the Board of Education announced that the work of the Elementary Attendance Boundary Realignment Committee would cease and that there would be no adjustments to the elementary attendance boundaries for the 2013-2014 school year," the letter read. "Further clarification from the Board of Education indicates that this includes students currently participating in a magnet program at Hanby, Emerson or Robert Frost.

"Current magnet students in grades two through four will remain at their magnet School for (the) 2013-2014 school year or until comprehensive district strategic planning occurs."

The "clarification from the "Board of Education" refers to a memorandum sent by school board President Denise Pope to the rest of the board April 3, stating that the board decision to call off the elementary boundary realignment included keeping the district's down-scaled magnet program open for at least an additional year.

The fate of the magnet program was unclear when the board announced March 18 that elementary realignment would not take place for the next school year because the closure of the magnet program was part of budget cuts passed by the board after the failure of the November 2011 levy.

Central College and Longfellow magnet schools were closed at the end of the last school year, and the board voted to grant a "bridge year" at Emerson and Hanby schools for this year, allowing students to remain in grades two through five but not creating an incoming first-grade class.

The decision to leave the buildings open while the district further considers its elementary programs to deal with overcrowding at some schools furthers that precedent, Pope said.

"We have not made the decision to do anything different," Pope said at the board's meeting Monday, April 8.

Nonetheless, board members Cindy Crowe and Carol French voiced displeasure at the meeting that the decision to keep Emerson and Hanby open with no new classes for the next school year was presented as a board decision.

"The board president does not have the authority to make a decision on behalf of the board," Crowe said. "I don't know if that's the right way to go."

Crowe went on to say that she believes the board voted last year on closing magnet schools not the magnet program, meaning that if Emerson and Hanby are to remain open, the board should look at having a full magnet program at the schools.

Pope and board members Kevin Hoffman and Kristi Robbins said the board vote last year on cuts clearly included the magnet program, and keeping the schools open with no new classes is consistent with that.

"If you follow the dots ... I could make the argument here that there's nothing that restores those buildings to the magnet program," Hoffman said. "It was very clear that that's all there is."

The canceling of elementary realignment left the district's administration to deal with overcrowding projected at many of the elementary schools this fall, and leaving existing magnet students and Emerson and Hanby allows the administration to plan more easily for the next school year, said district spokesman Greg Viebranz.

"Overcrowding in our facilities as it stands today is very similar to what we've experienced in prior years, but on a larger scale," Viebranz said. "As a result, our familiarity with the situation will allow us to plan for next school year in a fairly compressed time. It's something we're used to and something we'll be able to address as we have in the past."

Additionally, leaving the two schools open will allow the district to explore whether other elementary programs could be housed within Emerson or Hanby to free up space in more crowded elementary buildings, Viebranz said.

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