The Burnsville-Eagan-Savage school board plans to decide next week whether to move forward with planning for a series of magnet schools, including a fine- and performing-arts school that would be housed in the new Performing Arts Center in Burnsville.

A community group charged with evaluating magnet programs will also recommend that the district establish science, technology, engineering and math schools at Metcalf Junior High School and William Byrne Elementary, and a gifted and talented program or school at an elementary school.

The arts magnet "is just a wonderful project," said Burnsville's Deputy City Manager Tom Hansen. Burnsville's $20 million Performing Arts Center is under construction and on track to open by the end of the year.

The center, near Nicollet Commons Park, will seat 1,150 people in two theaters. The building's construction plans won't change if the school district decides it wants to rent space for a magnet school, which would cost about $200,000 annually.

The magnet schools -- along with some that may be established in the Lakeville school district -- would be part of an integration program between the two districts.

State law mandates that districts with more than a 20-point disparity in the percentage of students of color find ways to address the issue. Thirty-one percent of the students in Burnsville-Eagan-Savage are students of color, compared with nine percent in Lakeville.

Magnet schools are those that emphasize a particular discipline, and they are commonly used in integration efforts because they can voluntarily draw students across district lines.

Other integration programs

The Burnsville-Eagan-Savage and Lakeville school districts are in the first year of implementing their joint integration programs. The state provides money for the programs -- about $400,000 for the 2007-2008 school year in Burnsville and $300,000 in Lakeville.

Both districts have hired coordinators for the programs, and have planned for summer and fall offerings. For example, a summer program through Inver Hills Community College to help students prepare for college will be available to students in both districts this summer.

Lakeville is starting an Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program which prepares students in the "academic middle" for college, often through advanced-placement courses and an AVID class that helps with study skills.

Two social studies teachers at Burnsville High School have developed a course for students to examine cultural competencies -- the buzzword for being able to interact with and understand people from diverse backgrounds -- and social-justice issues. It will be taught in the 2008-09 year with teachers from Lakeville North and South high schools.

"I'm pleased with the progress we're making," said Aldo Sicoli, an assistant superintendent in the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage school district. "Overall, I think we're doing a lot of good things for students."

Open in Fall 2009

If the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage district does decide next week to go forward with planning for the magnet schools, it would be able to hire people to help plan and oversee the programs, Sicoli said. Then, the district would make a final decision this fall whether to fully commit to starting the schools in fall 2009.

Lakeville's planning is a little further behind than Burnsville's, but it is also considering magnet schools that would open in 2009. Any schools would be open to students in both Burnsville-Eagan-Savage and Lakeville, and students in both districts would have an equal shot at any empty seats.

As for the fine- and performing-arts school, "We hope the school board can find a way to get it done," Hansen said.

Emily Johns • 952-882-9056