Richland residents keen to have their children learn a second language or enroll in an arts-focused school may have to wait a few years.
The Richland School Board and Superintendent Rick Schulte said during a workshop this week that they are interested in starting a magnet school or similar program for district students.
But a lot of questions remain, and the district expects to be busy building new schools, starting new teacher evaluations and implementing new educational standards and standardized tests.
"If we're going to do this well, it's going to be a very complex endeavor," said Assistant Superintendent Erich Bolz, who researched the concept for the board.
Magnet schools are public schools that offer a specialized or focused curriculum.
Delta High School, the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, school jointly operated by the Richland, Pasco and Kennewick school districts is similar to the magnet school concept.
The Kennewick and Pasco school districts offer dual language programs and Pasco is expected to have a STEM-focused curriculum at its three newest elementary schools opening in the next two years.
Magnet programs are being used elsewhere in the state, including in the Spokane School District's Odyssey and Tessera programs and arts-focused and language immersion programs in the Vancouver School District. However, some of those programs specifically are for gifted students.
The Richland board's discussions this week revealed a lot of unanswered questions about the concept, ranging from what the program would teach to whether it would encompass an entire school or operate alongside traditional curriculum.
Other issues were raised about the timing and motivation of the district's efforts.
"My concern is we're going to go down a path, put a lot of work into it and it isn't sustainable," said Jeri Morrow, president of the Richland Education Association.
She said district teachers have pushed for similar efforts and programs in the past, only to have them not be supported by the board or they didn't generate enough interest with students and parents.
She said she was concerned about creating an atmosphere of exclusivity and privilege among students and teachers who are in the magnet school.
Morrow said she also wondered if this effort is more about redistributing more students to emptier central Richland schools than providing more educational options.
Board member Phyllis Strickler said she wouldn't be opposed to a magnet program but she's concerned about the time it will take to set it up, especially with everything the district is involved in currently, including implementing the Common Core Standards, teacher and principal evaluations and changes to the district's gifted program.
"We said we didn't want to do a lot of new things because we have a lot going on," Strickler said. "If we do it, we need to keep it reasonable and not too complicated."
Board Chairman Rick Jansons introduced the concept of a magnet school when the board set its priorities for the school year.
He said there are questions to be addressed before a magnet school is established and that he didn't anticipate trying to get one up and running immediately.
The effort could take at least two years and will be dependent on when the new schools, paid for by a $98 million bond, open. But the goal needs to be set now, he said.
"Without a goal and without starting, we're never going to move forward," he said.