RALEIGH — A vote this week by the Wake County school board could provide a glimpse of how much future flexibility non-magnet schools will have to compete with magnet schools by offering special programs.
On Tuesday, the board will vote on allowing Broughton High School to keep its International Baccalaureate program even though it's losing its status as a magnet school.
Historically, offerings such as the International Baccalaureate program have been exclusively offered by magnet schools. But members of the board majority have talked about allowing non-magnet schools to offer more courses.
"Magnet schools don't mean that other schools can't have specialized themes," said school board member John Tedesco, a member of the board majority.
But some parents fear the Broughton decision could be an indication of how the magnet program will be weakened by the new board.
"It's the first step toward taking the magnet program down," said Jody Gross, a past PTSA president at Millbrook High School in North Raleigh, which is starting an International Baccalaureate program to replace the one that Broughton is supposed to be losing.
For 28 years, Wake has used magnet schools to desegregate inner-city schools by luring suburban students with special offerings such as Chinese or drama not offered at regular schools.
While Broughton, located near Cameron Village in Raleigh, is not your typical inner-city school, it had been experiencing declining enrollment when it received the International Baccalaureate program in 1999. The IB program provides an academically rigorous curriculum that stresses global understanding, cultural awareness and community service.
Over the past decade, the IB program has helped attract many students who live near Broughton who might have gone to private schools, charter schools or more distant magnet schools.
But critics questioned why Broughton was getting magnet resources although it has few magnet students and mainly serves families from established Raleigh neighborhoods. Administrators proposed moving hundreds of neighborhood students out of Broughton to free up more openings for magnet students.
Under lobbying from parents who didn't want their neighborhoods to be reassigned, the old school board voted in December 2008 to remove Broughton's International Baccalaureate themed magnet program after the end of the 2012-13 school year. Gross said she can recall being invited by Broughton parents to attend meetings to urge that the IB program be moved to Millbrook because it was no longer needed at Broughton.
But Broughton parents who had opposed the decision to remove the IB program haven't given up. They've been lobbying the board members elected last fall.
"To discontinue a program that they've spent millions on didn't make sense," said Caroline Monson, a Broughton parent who has been lobbying the new board members.
Last week, the board's student achievement committee recommended that Broughton be allowed to remain as an International Baccalaureate school serving the neighborhood students. The recommendation doesn't include a commitment for funding once the money runs out in 2013.
But board members said they're hoping the economy will improve by 2013 to allow them to pay the $180,000 a year it would take to keep the program at Broughton.
School board reaction
Tedesco, who heads the committee that will draw up the community-based attendance zones, said allowing Broughton to keep the IB program fits in with his vision of allowing non-magnet schools to operate themed academies. One of the complaints from parents of non-magnet students is that Wake overly restricts what can be offered at non-magnet schools to protect the magnet program.
Tedesco said keeping the IB program will also help Broughton compete with nearby private schools such as St. Mary's and St. David's.
"Keeping the school successful would help public education," Tedesco said.
Several members of the board minority are also backing keeping the IB program at Broughton, saying it won't directly compete against Millbrook.
But Gross said Millbrook will probably lose some magnet applicants who would be able to go to Broughton instead.
Monson said a strong IB program at Broughton can only help Millbrook. She said Broughton's teachers can help their colleagues at Millbrook get the program running.
"We're not a threat to them," Monson said. "Us being strong will help them. I truly believe that."
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