If voters pass a $290 million bond package for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools this November, District 6 in southern Mecklenburg County would get its first magnet school, addressing a long-standing need in the area, officials said.The new school would be scheduled to open in August, 2020, said CMS board member Eric Davis. The kindergarten to eighth grade magnet would follow the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) model. The delay is frustrating for some.“While I admire the county’s discipline in protecting their credit rating, the current process is entirely too slow to meet our students’ needs,” said Davis.The $290 million bond package is the smallest amount to go before voters in the past decade. Mecklenburg County commissioners imposed the limit so they won’t have to raise property taxes to repay the debt.But the smaller price tag means fewer projects. This year’s plan includes three new schools, compared with 12 in the $516 million plan voters approved in 2007.The new schools, including the one in Ballantyne, will be combined elementary-middle schools. Guy Chamberlain, associate superintendent for auxiliary services, said historically, the system has built new construction because an existing school needed repairs or the district wanted to address an overcrowding issue.Now Chamberlain said the district is pursuing new construction for a third reason: diverse academic programming.Officials said the magnet in Ballantyne would relieve crowding at four elementary schools: Ballantyne, Elon Park, Hawk Ridge and Polo Ridge; and two middle schools: Community House and J.M. Robinson.It will also give District 6 its first magnet school.As with the rest of the system, the district has faced increasing competition from private and charter schools, which offer alternatives to traditional teaching methods.At-large school board member Tim Morgan said the school district hasn’t had the chance to meet the demand for magnet schools in District 6 because it was focusing on meeting the demand for more schools in general in the area.The population growth in southern Mecklenburg County in the past decade created severe over-crowding issues in traditional schools, said Morgan.“It was much more of a concern to build new seats,” than to build specialized schools like magnets, he said.But the opening of several new schools in the area in recent years has given the system room to breathe, Morgan said. Leaders can now be more deliberate about building specialized schools, such as the STEAM magnet planned in Ballanytne.Davis said magnet schools have increased in popularity during the years because their programs are “practical and engaging for students.”“When students work on robotics type projects or engineering projects, the math is much more exciting than if you’re just doing equations on a piece of paper,” he said. “The big attraction for this program is the ability to connect with students and the practical nature of it.”The new school would also be economical because it would be an elementary and middle school combined, meaning that the district would only need one new building.Still several years off, Morgan said the board is considering adding a STEAM high school to the system, which would serve as a feeder school for the magnet in Ballantye. That high school could potentially be located on the old Smith Language Academy property off Tyvola Road, said Morgan.“That way if they wanted to continue on the technology track or the STEAM track, they would have the option of applying to one of the magnet schools,” said Morgan.Although the exact site for the new magnet school hasn’t been selected, Chamberlain said it would likely be south of Ballantyne Commons Parkway.He added that the district is looking at real estate. Although the district usually wants 25 acres for middle school properties, he said the district may need to “be a little more creative” in the southern part of the county because of a lack of available land.Chamberlain said the sooner the district can close on a piece of real estate the better. That’s because prices are near historic lows, he said.But nothing can happen unless the voters approve the bonds, he said.“Once we secure approval from the county commission and public, we can move pretty expeditiously through the construction process,” said Davis. “But most of that seven-year process is waiting on that money.”
Friday, Oct. 25, 2013
New magnet school tied to bond
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