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CMS chief: Fuel prices to force cuts

Soaring fuel costs will force Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to scale back busing or make other big cuts, Superintendent Peter Gorman and Transportation Director Carol Stamper told the school board Monday.

“It is very critical,” Stamper said.

CMS is paying more than $4 a gallon for diesel fuel, Stamper said – significantly more than the state will reimburse them for fuel, according to state budget proposals.

Officials outlined possible cutbacks to busing for magnet programs, ranging from eliminating buses to the specialized schools, which students attend by choice, to requiring parents to take their kids to “magnet express” stops.

The board made no decisions. Members will delve into magnet issues, including busing options, in more depth at their June 24 meeting. Changes wouldn't take effect until 2009-10.

Monday's meeting was part of an ongoing review of magnet programs. Gorman has suggested consolidating some programs into one school that serves the entire county. For instance, Smith Language Academy might take all French-immersion middle-school students, while Collinswood Elementary might add a middle school that would take all students continuing in Spanish immersion.

But countywide magnets create longer, more expensive bus rides.

Scott McCully, CMS's top student placement official, outlined cost-cutting scenarios.

For instance, he said, the district could limit busing to homes within a fixed distance of each magnet school. A five-mile limit would eliminate busing for about two-thirds of students at Northwest School of the Arts, a west Charlotte magnet with grades 6-10. A 10-mile limit would leave less than one in five without a ride.

Officials also discussed mandatory “magnet express” stops, which would require families to get their children to consolidated bus stops located at other schools, where buses to the magnets would pick them up.

Board members Vilma Leake and Tom Tate said any reduction in busing for magnets reduces low-income families' access. “I don't want to penalize students who can't provide transportation,” Tate said.

Most of the proposed changes pose tough choices. For instance, Gorman has suggested eliminating the “open” magnet program, which officials say was created in the 1970s and no longer has a distinct focus.

But Leake, who represents the west/southwest District 2, said CMS should do better at training teachers and providing materials, rather than abolishing programs that bolster center-city and westside schools. “If these programs are not in a given part of the county, they don't get the strength and support,” she said.

Board member Ken Gjertsen, who represents the south/southeast District 6, urged the board to move some successful magnets closer to his constituents. There are no magnets in his district and few within convenient distance, said Gjertsen, who said his wife drives their child 40 minutes each way to a magnet school.

Several board members wondered whether they should tinker with specific programs before forming a clear definition of what they want from magnets.

“I still don't think this board has told our staff what these magnet programs are about,” said Chair Joe White.

Soaring fuel costs will force Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to scale back busing or make other big cuts, Superintendent Peter Gorman and Transportation Director Carol Stamper told the school board Monday.

“It is very critical,” Stamper said.

CMS is paying more than $4 a gallon for diesel fuel, Stamper said – significantly more than the state will reimburse them for fuel, according to state budget proposals.

Officials outlined possible cutbacks to busing for magnet programs, ranging from eliminating buses to the specialized schools, which students attend by choice, to requiring parents to take their kids to “magnet express” stops.

The board made no decisions. Members will delve into magnet issues, including busing options, in more depth at their June 24 meeting. Changes wouldn't take effect until 2009-10.

Monday's meeting was part of an ongoing review of magnet programs. Gorman has suggested consolidating some programs into one school that serves the entire county. For instance, Smith Language Academy might take all French-immersion middle-school students, while Collinswood Elementary might add a middle school that would take all students continuing in Spanish immersion.

But countywide magnets create longer, more expensive bus rides.

Scott McCully, CMS's top student placement official, outlined cost-cutting scenarios.

For instance, he said, the district could limit busing to homes within a fixed distance of each magnet school. A five-mile limit would eliminate busing for about two-thirds of students at Northwest School of the Arts, a west Charlotte magnet with grades 6-10. A 10-mile limit would leave less than one in five without a ride.

Officials also discussed mandatory “magnet express” stops, which would require families to get their children to consolidated bus stops located at other schools, where buses to the magnets would pick them up.

Board members Vilma Leake and Tom Tate said any reduction in busing for magnets reduces low-income families' access. “I don't want to penalize students who can't provide transportation,” Tate said.

Most of the proposed changes pose tough choices. For instance, Gorman has suggested eliminating the “open” magnet program, which officials say was created in the 1970s and no longer has a distinct focus.

But Leake, who represents the west/southwest District 2, said CMS should do better at training teachers and providing materials, rather than abolishing programs that bolster center-city and westside schools. “If these programs are not in a given part of the county, they don't get the strength and support,” she said.

Board member Ken Gjertsen, who represents the south/southeast District 6, urged the board to move some successful magnets closer to his constituents. There are no magnets in his district and few within convenient distance, said Gjertsen, who said his wife drives their child 40 minutes each way to a magnet school.

Several board members wondered whether they should tinker with specific programs before forming a clear definition of what they want from magnets.

“I still don't think this board has told our staff what these magnet programs are about,” said Chair Joe White.

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