Board to Limit Schools in Magnet Plan

Times Staff Writer

The issue of declining white-student enrollment in San Diego city schools confronted the Board of Education on Tuesday when it moved to limit the number of schools participating in its magnet education program.

Magnet schools offer special academic offerings in fields ranging from art to math to computers as a way to attract students to bus voluntarily across San Diego as part of the school district’s voluntary integration program. (With two exceptions, the magnet schools are overwhelmingly non-white and are designed to attract white students.)

When the current magnet programs were set up in 1982, district enrollment was 50% white, 50% non-white and the district decided that white students in schools within 15% of the 50-50 level would be eligible, on a sliding scale of priorities, to attend magnets at non-neighborhood schools.

For example, students at a predominantly white school, say with 65% or greater white enrollment, would have first choice at a magnet at a minority school in Southeast. But a student at a school with as few as 35% white students would also have a shot at magnets.


Those rules changed Tuesday, when the board agreed with its integration staff to change the permitted deviation from 15% to 5%.

57% Non-White, 43% White

Assistant Supt. George Frey pointed out that the district today has a student enrollment that is 57% non-white and 43% white. Using the 15% rule, a school with as few as 28% white students was losing some of those students to magnet programs, Frey told the board. The result was that those schools were in danger of becoming minority-isolated, defined under court orders as a school with less than 20% white enrollment.

By putting the 5% rule into effect, the district will prohibit new white students from 12 schools from magnet eligibility. Students from those schools currently in a magnet program will not be affected. The schools are: Audubon, Johnson, Penn, Lee, Encanto, Zamorano, Perry and Fulton elementary schools, Mann Middle School, Montgomery Junior High, and Crawford and Kearny high schools.

“At present, 15% to 20% of the total magnet participation was coming from these schools and . . . we don’t want to destroy one system (integrated neighborhood schools) for another (magnet integration),” Frey said.

Frey said that magnet program coordinators in the minority-isolated schools will now have to work harder at predominantly white schools in La Jolla, Mira Mesa, Point Loma and Lake Murray areas to recruit new students.

“They will have to look farther (geographically) than they have,” Frey said, noting that many of the schools no longer on eligibility lists are in more integrated neighborhoods. “I’m not naive; it’s going to be difficult.”

‘That Causes Competition’


Board chairman Dorothy Smith said that many predominantly white schools in the North City area have taken ideas from magnet schools, meaning it will be hard to persuade parents that magnets offer instruction so different to justify long bus rides of an hour or more.

“I know that causes competition when schools in North City replicate (a magnet idea),” Frey said.

Board member Susan Davis said that white parents at schools now considered “naturally balanced"--from 5% to 10% deviation from districtwide percentages and therefore barred from magnet participation--must be convinced that such schools offer the same choices of academic enrichment as those in other areas.

Davis said that otherwise, white parents will look to predominantly white schools in other areas, with the result that the naturally balanced schools will become increasingly minority-isolated without any magnet programs benefiting from the change.