The Burnsville-Eagan-Savage school board broke a deadlock Thursday night over plans for a new magnet school housed in Burnsville's new performing arts center.

The board voted 4-3 to move ahead with plans to open the school next fall and offer some classes in a mixed-use building next door.

Board member Todd Johnson, who has been absent from many meetings since he was diagnosed with recurring cancer this fall, attended Thursday's meeting to cast the tiebreaking vote.

The board has been sharply divided this fall over where to locate the magnet program. Three board members wanted to go along with the district's initial plan to have students spend half the school day at Burnsville High School, a mile away. Three others have argued that the program would have a more distinct identity -- and a better shot at success -- if students took classes in core subjects as a group, within walking distance of the arts center.

Dissenting board members have spoken out against spending money on extra classroom space for the program's first year, especially in the current economy. District administrators share that concern, but they will seek a lease in the Grande Market Place building as instructed by the board, Superintendent Randall Clegg said Friday.

The numbers are rough, but district employees estimate that running the program could cost about $800,000 more a year in the leased classrooms than it would if it were housed at the high school. The initial cost of converting the space into about eight classrooms could run to $400,000.

The district hopes to enroll 125 students in the magnet program next fall, with as many as 300 in a few years. The program will probably lose money during its first year, Clegg said. But if the program attracts 200 students from outside the district five years from now, it could make about $300,000 a year, he said.

The resolution passed by the school board included the caveat that the lease must have terms comparable to those of similar commercial properties. A lease agreement, if the district reaches one, would have to be approved by the board.

Sarah Lemagie • 952-882-9016