Westerville News & Public Opinion

New magnet school lottery attracts complaints


Westerville's new magnet program lottery received some mixed opinions from parents who were upset by their child's chances on being accepted into the program. A number of parents who spoke at a recent Board of Education meeting said they simply find the new lottery unfair.

After halting magnet-program registration following a levy failure in 2011, school district officials will reinstate the program for all elementary grades in a two-year roll out plan. This year, parents could enter their second- or third- grader in the lottery for seats in the magnet schools, now based on a per-regular elementary school allocation.

Prior to closing the program, it was a district-wide lottery with no per-building allocation.

After meetings with teachers, principals and school leaders, district officials created a seat allocation lottery in order to provide an equal opportunity to every student in the district and to control crowded classrooms.

However, the lottery may not have been as fair as the district intended.

Michael Ducy, a parent who tried unsuccessfully to enroll his child in the magnet program, spoke at the Westerville Board of Education meeting June 9.

"The magnet school lottery did not provide equal opportunity for every student. The way I understand it, the seats were distributed based on the size of the school," Ducy said. "The other goal of the lottery was to ease capacity concerns. And in doing so, students at the school didn't have an equal opportunity."

Ducy said the former district-wide lottery gave students the best chance to be in a magnet program, and the seat allocation lottery reduced the chances.

"For instance, in a district-wide basis, students had a 54 percent chance if you took it, put kids in one big pool and drew numbers from that one big pool and give seats that way. If you do that, you would have a 54 percent chance," Ducy said. "On the high end, (in the new lottery) Huber Ridge (students who entered the lottery this year) had a 100 percent chance for second-graders. On the low end, my home school Whittier, had a 19 percent chance."

Ducy said students at Wilder Elementary had a 43 percent chance and Pointiew Elementary students had a 30 percent chance, which is unfair in comparison.

"So I ask, how have we given our students an equal opportunity for access to this education?" Ducy said.

Deb Mylin also spoke about the new lottery. She had two daughters finish the magnet program, and found their education rewarding. She was concerned how the future of the program would play out, particularly in gender balance with the math and science magnet.

"In its former life, the magnet program was an equal opportunity system. It counted for both demand and gender balance," Mylin said. "Today, with the shrinking of the program and the neighborhood-weighted lottery, far fewer students will be able to enroll in their magnet school of choice."

Board President Nancy Nestor-Baker said district officials came up with this method after many meetings with educators involved in the magnet program. The old lottery method usually worked out that many students enrolled in a magnet program came from the same schools. The seat allocation was the district's way to give equal representation from all the schools and maintain crowds.

Both lottery systems are fair, but in their own ways, Nestor-Baker said.

"We thought we would try that to see how it would play out. When you look at the district as a whole, it is a fair way to do it," she said. "The open lottery is fair to the district as a whole, but less fair to the buildings who have been less represented to the magnets."

Nestor-Baker said district leaders would need to collect more data to see if this is the fairest method for everyone prior to making changes.

"I don't think we can make the decision yet," she said. "We have to look at that data and see how it plays out."