Wake County schools fall short on federal magnet grant again

Posted by T. Keung Hui on January 27, 2014 

The Wake County school system is once again having to compensate for not winning the federal Magnet Schools Assistance Program grant.

As noted in today’s article, it’s a repeat of what the school district had to do when the prior MSAP grant was also rejected in 2010. Magnet-school supporters are being a lot more silent this time than compared to 2010 when they were blaming rejection of the $10.3 million grant on the then-Republican board majority dropping the diversity policy.

After news of the grant not being approved came out in 2010, Rob Schofield of the liberal N.C. Policy Watch came out with a blog post titled “the embarrassing spiral continues.”

“Lawsuits, threats to national accreditation, an embarrassing lack of knowledge and professionalism amongst the ruling board majority, millions of wasted dollars, an utterly chaotic and impossible to follow reassignment process and now failure to win federal magnet dollars of the kind that it used to have a lock on — the disastrous collapse of Wake County’s once outstanding public school system continues,” Schofield writes. “All one can say is “heck of a job, Ronny and Johnny!”

Similar comments came from board critics while school leaders argued the rejection was a case of reviewer error. The feds refused to reconsider the rejection.

Jump ahead to 2013, when Wake applied for the next round of MSAP grants. Wake asked for up to $12 million over three years for the magnetization of Fox Road and Green elementary schools and Carroll Middle School and the revision of the magnet themes at Poe Elementary School and Moore Square Middle School.

In September, the U.S. Department of Education announced that $89.8 million in MSAP grants would be awarded to 27 school districts.

Cathy Moore, deputy superintendent for school performance, blames fewer federal dollars for Wake not getting the grant.

Moore points to how President Obama requested $99.6 million for the MSAP grants. Congress approved $96.7 million. After the sequester, it was reduced to $91.6 million.

“Our grant was competitive and close,” Moore said. “In a year where they got full funding it might have been different.”

Moving forward, Moore said administrators are working on business cases for the 2014-15 budget to try to come up with some of the money that would have come from MSAP. Wake had to say in the MSAP application that it would continue to operate the magnet schools regardless of whether the grant was approved.

“We knew we were making a commitment to the schools regardless of whether we got the grant,” Moore said.

Just as in 2010, the amount Wake puts in from local dollars would be less than what the MSAP money would have provided. Moore said they may have to spread some things out over several more years at those five schools, such as staff development and supplies.

Unlike 2010, the school district hasn’t talked at any of the board meetings about not receiving the MSAP grant. School board chairwoman Christine Kushner said that might be due to how new Superintendent Jim Merrill was busy transitioning into the position.

Kushner said that not receiving the grant shouldn’t be taken as a negative on the magnet program in Wake. She pointed to how Wake’s magnet schools receive multiple awards annually from Magnet Schools of America and how the group’s executive director praised the district’s program as signs that things are still going strong.

“I feel that the magnet program is strong and we have a lot of strong schools throughout the county,” Kushner said. “It’s a reflection of how we value choice in the community.”

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