Medical magnet school intrigues Richland 1

Amid more somber discussions about school budgets, Richland 1 board members attending a retreat Friday pondered a future medical magnet that would attract students interested in health-related careers.

Board chairman Vince Ford told fellow members he was impressed during a visit to the Chrispus Attucks Medical Magnet High School in Indianapolis, a public school that prepares students in grades six-12 for careers in medicine, nursing, medical technology and other health fields. The school is aligned with the University of Indiana medical school.

Ford speculated Richland 1 could forge a possible collaboration with Columbia's large hospital systems and university medical school.

Superintendent Percy Mack said, "we have commitments to have conversations" with local college presidents and heads of medical and nursing divisions.

While the magnet was a positive point of discussion during Friday's meeting, the economic outlook loomed as a concern for Richland 1, as it is for other S.C. districts.

The 2010 budget is $238 million, down $10 million from 2009.

Budget director Ed Carlon said Richland 1 can count on one more year of federal stimulus funds of $13 million, but by 2012 that will fall to zero.

State budget writers are expected to mandate another reduction on the district in coming months.

Board members wrestling with declining enrollment held preliminary discussions on the pros and cons of school closings or consolidations.

Carlon said he will complete an analysis within the next 60-90 days of the costs and savings of consolidation or closing, as well as the ripple effects on the district, including longer commutes for students.

Mack said he would "definitely not be in favor of putting a child on a bus longer" than current commutes.

"It's dark enough and tough enough now," he said.

Ford said any change in school makeup will require long negotiations and cannot be left up to administrative staff.

"The board is going to have to put its feet in the water on this one," Ford said.

Ford repeated his concern that school districts are only pondering cutbacks and not working hard enough to persuade legislators to looks for ways to enhance revenue through cigarette taxes and other mechanisms.

"At some point out there we have to have a collective voice," Ford said. "We've got to feel like it is an insult."