BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County School Board members have approved a magnet program policy for the 2013-14 school year that is virtually the same as the current procedures.
But it doesn't mean they like it.
In approving the policy 3-1 Tuesday night, School Board members made it clear they had serious and long-standing issues with the district's magnet selection process — concerns that almost derailed the measure from coming up for a vote.
Hernando County's magnet programs are divisive, often splitting the School Board as well as the community, pitting people who like the programs and their success against those who see them as creating different tiers of students.
Those concerns came up again and again during recent School Board discussions as board members considered revisions to the procedures for next school year. They hadn't found any specific answers.
Tuesday's motion initially failed after it didn't receive a second.
Superintendent Bryan Blavatt, who moments earlier had issued full support for the plan, addressed the School Board members.
With magnet orientation conferences beginning at the end of this week, Blavatt said, failing to approve the procedures would force those to be canceled, and it would change the overall time line for magnet school applications for 2013-14.
Blavatt told board members, minus Dianne Bonfield, who was absent, that he was under the impression they had given him approval at a workshop to bring the procedures forward at a meeting.
"I have a concern when we come to the board with a proposal (and) no one indicates to us that there is disapproval of it," he said.
After asking the board what the district should do, he said, "I'm really dealing in the dark, to be honest with you."
Ken Pritz, the assistant superintendent in charge of teaching and learning, told board members the plan before them was the same as last year, except it included some new language designed to clarify a couple of points — specifically stating that admission to Nature Coast Technical High School is 100 percent by lottery for students who live outside the school's geographic zone and that parents can submit applications for their children at more than one magnet school.
Given the 3-2 split at an October workshop, Pritz said he had already planned on reconvening the district's magnet school committee to meet and look at what changes need to be made for future years.
He said he would meet a couple of times throughout the year to try and go in a different direction.
School Board member John Sweeney, who had previously voiced concerns with the district's magnet schools, spoke up again Tuesday night.
"We still don't have a mechanism to identify students who exhibit certain aptitudes in our district," Sweeney said. "We still don't have a mechanism in place to look out for a child" who might need extra attention.
He also said he had a difficult time with the fact that a large percentage of 4-year-olds must make portfolios in order to enter the district's magnet programs as kindergartners.
Sweeney said, instead, he wouldn't mind giving an aptitude test.
"But if we want to make it a purely aptitude-based school, we should have a mechanism that reflects that," he said. "What we have still is a little too much of a hodgepodge."
With schools starting their meetings soon, board Chairwoman Cynthia Moore said, "I think for a year we could live with it."
Sweeney eventually agreed.
"The last thing we want to do is put the parents in the community in a state of chaos and confusion when things are going well — the schools are doing well," he said.
Board Vice Chairman Matt Foreman ultimately was the only member to cast his vote against the plan.
He said his problems stemmed from last year, when the board voted to increase the percentage of students being accepted by lottery, rather than by portfolio, at magnet schools.
"Really what it comes down to is I'm rather tired of this board trying to fix something that isn't broken with regards to the magnet schools," he said.