The Iredell-Statesville school board's unanimous decision last week to open the system's first International Baccalaureate diploma program at South Iredell High in Troutman angered parents concerned about long commutes.
The program will begin in the 2011-12 school year.
Hundreds of students in the system's two IB programs for lower grades - Mount Mourne IB Candidate School in southern Iredell and Northview IB Candidate School in Statesville, which serves the northern end - would be able to continue their IB studies through 12th grade at South Iredell High.
But dozens of Mount Mourne and Northview parents packed the second-floor meeting room of the Iredell County Government Center in Statesville last week to urge the board to come up with a better plan.
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One of the 19 speakers said she favored the South Iredell High site.
Most want two high school IB programs, one at Statesville High to serve Northview IB students and the other at Lake Norman High in Mooresville for Mount Mourne IB children. Some parents and students said the board could expand the Mount Mourne site for a high school IB diploma program.
Savings in transportation costs would more than compensate for having two sites, parents said.
Parents said lengthy travel times under the new plan will cause many students to leave their IB studies after candidate school.
"I think it kills the program," Mount Mourne IB parent Tom Kerhoulas told the board. "This is a very, very large county. It's just not a feasible plan at South Iredell High School. The concern is the amount of time in the classroom" with the long travel times.
Parents said it would take up to 21/2 hours for buses to get their children to and from South Iredell High from southern Iredell County because of traffic snarls along such thoroughfares as Brawley School Road.
Mount Mourne IB parent Chris Dawes cited a recent survey of Mount Mourne IB students. Seventy percent of the 279 respondents said they would leave their IB studies and attend another school rather than travel to South Iredell High.
"This is our children's education and future," Dawes told the board. "Please don't be hasty."
Iredell-Statesville officials have said a central location would save the school system at least $133,000 in annual and startup costs.
Mount Mourne IB parent Jim Hausman, a certified public accountant and 20-year chief financial officer for private and public companies, said the system actually would save $56,000 by housing the program in two more convenient locations.
That's because transportation costs would be $120,000 more if students were bused to South Iredell High, according to Hausman's analysis.
The board didn't comment on Hausman's findings or other parents' statements. Then board member Charles Kelly made a motion that baffled the crowd: He asked that plans for the IB diploma program be canceled and the Mount Mourne and Northview IB candidate schools be dissolved because of the controversy. Kelly said he knew his motion wouldn't get a second, and it didn't.
The board then approved opening the program at South Iredell High.