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Magnet school idea may stick

William Ferchland

With little to no opposition and a strong backing, a plan to transform the closed Meyers Elementary into the Lake Tahoe Environmental Science Magnet School is expected to pass at tonight’s special meeting of the Lake Tahoe Unified School District Board of Education.

Another notable agenda item is a possible change to school start times and bus schedules.

If approved, the specialized school will open in September for an anticipated 180 students from prekindergarten to fifth grade who would be picked by a random lottery.

Eight teachers who have a background in environmental science would be pulled from within the district. The school would not have a principal. Instead, a lead teacher, site council Human Resource Director Beth Delacour and Superintendent James Tarwater, would head the school.

Board member Sue Novasel, a Meyers resident of more than two decades and member of the Meyers Roundtable Committee, expects the school to be approved.

“I think it’s such a big plus,” she said. “Meyers school has always been an integral part of our community.”

Closed by budget cuts last school year, the school has been sitting with its parking lot empty and windows boarded. About $1 million from the developer fee fund – available only for school expansion projects – would be used to get the magnet school off the ground with instructional materials, construction improvements and other necessary items.

Reopening the school would bring the possible return of community meetings and labeling the site as an evacuation center in case of an emergency, Novasel said.

“It’s really a great asset,” she said.

According to Lynn Hartzler, a consultant on magnet schools for the California Department of Education, there are 469 magnet schools or schools that have magnet programs in the state.

Besides funds from the developer fee fund, $107,060 is expected to be needed from the general fund to pay for a school secretary, custodian and noon duty aide. Officials believe the money will be recouped by increasing enrollment from attracting students outside the district, such as the 130 students who are taught by Visions in Education charter school.

Dianne Lederer, testing and outreach administrator for Visions, a charter system based out of San Juan Unified School District which has had a South Lake Tahoe site since 1999, was unmoved by the proposed magnet school luring Visions’ students.

“It’s up for parents to decide,” Lederer said. “We’re not in competition. Our main goal is to give students the best education that fits their needs.”

Adding to the belief that to make money one has to spend money, Tarwater is proposing $104,651 from the general fund to hire two bus drivers for a two-tiered bus schedule. One tier would handle high school and middle school students while the other would transport elementary students, including those from the proposed magnet school.

South Tahoe High School students and faculty will likely rejoice on the proposed 7:55 a.m. start time, which is 35 minutes later than last year’s. South Tahoe Middle School people would lose 40 minutes if the 7:45 a.m. start time is approved.

In hoping to improve attendance, Tarwater wants to schedule the start times for the high school and middle school close together so students can work on attendance habits.

Attendance rates have been a focus of Tarwater as a way to boost state revenue. The state provides funding to school districts for students who attend school. The attendance rate for the district is 92.7 percent, which is lower than the state average of 94.5 percent and the district’s goal of 97 percent.

Tonight’s meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. at the district’s boardroom at 1021 Al Tahoe Blvd.

– E-mail William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com


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