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ORANGE | Community News Focus

Middle School's Role Topic of Debate

January 11, 1997|LESLEY WRIGHT

Orange Unified School Board trustees have about one month to decide whether to experiment with new programs when they reopen the old McPherson Middle School this fall.

Administrators are pushing for a magnet elementary school, one that focuses on science, math and technology or one that emphasizes basic skills. That way, the district would not have to redraw attendance boundaries or provide busing for the new school, Assistant Supt. Neil McKinnon said during a school board meeting Thursday.

But some conservative trustees said they want the district committee studying the issue to consider opening McPherson as a charter school. Under state law, that is the only kind of school that can contract with for-profit educational companies to run the schools because charters are released from regulations of the Education Code.

The district was approached last year by the controversial Edison Project, a New York-based company run by media entrepreneur Christopher Whittle. The company continues to be in contact with administrators about its prospects in the district, said Supt. Robert L. French. "They are anxious to locate in California," he said.

The decision to open the school, which was leased out eight years ago during a decline in student population, is all but a foregone conclusion because of a booming enrollment in elementary grades that is projected to continue into the next century.

The 27,000 students now in the 37-school district could increase by as much as 10% in the next five years, administrators said.

Because of the crunch, opening the school next year is a priority, even though that makes for a very tight timeline for decisions. That schedule would almost certainly be too tight to go through the complex steps of creating a charter for McPherson by next fall, French said.

The board will discuss the issue again on Feb. 11 and make a final decision on Feb. 27.

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