Board takes school closing option off the table

February 15, 2011 

The Beaufort County Board of Education will close no public school this year, it affirmed in a vote Tuesday.

"We are elated that our children, all children, can rest assured that they can stay in their schools for the coming year," said Lisa Kindwall, chairwoman of the Shell Point Elementary School Improvement Council. "We were strung along for so many months."

School closings were among several proposals the board was considering to combat an anticipated $4-million shortfall in this year's budget and nearly $7 million next year.

Shuttering Shell Point Elementary was first proposed in November. Parents there adamantly opposed the proposal and spoke against it at several public meetings.

A motion to halt discussions of school closings failed on a tie vote Jan. 8 when board member Earl Campbell -- who supported taking the closings off the table -- was absent.

On Feb. 1, a parliamentary rule led board chairman Fred Washington Jr. to deny a second vote on the issue, even though the majority of the board favored such a vote. He said allowing the board to vote twice on the same motion would violate Robert's Rules of Order.

In response, board member Steven Morello changed the language of the motion.

Instead of moving to stop discussions of school closings, he asked the board to continue funding all schools in their current buildings in the upcoming school year.

A version of that motion passed Tuesday, on a 6-4 vote, with board member George Wilson absent.

Members Washington, Laura Bush, Wayne Carbiener and Bill Evans voted against the motion. Bush tried to again delay the vote until the board meets for a full-day budget work session Friday, but failed.

"Until this board decides ... how we're going to deal with the deficit, we need to have all options remain," she said.

Campbell said the decision should not be delayed again.

"We need to stop dragging our feet and do what we need to do," he said.

Board member Ronald Speaks agreed: "I feel like we should go ahead and move on so these parents and students will be happy knowing that their school is going to be open."

Voting for the motion was Herbert Burnes, Morello, Campbell, Speaks, Julie Bell and Michael Rivers.

Kindwall said she and other Shell Point parents will continue to stay informed on school budget issues and fight school closings if the topic is broached again.

INTERNATIONAL BACCALAUREATE

The International Baccalaureate Diploma Program at Battery Creek High School will be eliminated over two years and the program at Hilton Head Island High School put on probation after a vote Tuesday by the school board.

The vote was unanimous, with Wilson absent.

Battery Creek will begin phasing out its IB diploma program this fall, but all current juniors who have started the program will be allowed to continue. The school will instead offer a full slate of Advanced Placement classes and continue offering dual enrollment courses through the Technical College of the Lowcountry.

Hilton Head High School will attempt to increase IB class enrollment, as well as the percentage of students passing IB exams and earning the full IB diploma, during its two-year probation.

"We really need to take a long, hard look at how the investment of dollars is helping all students," Bush said. "...We need to take these next two years to see how the dollars and training correlate to the (whole) student body."

Seven Hilton Head residents voiced their support of the IB program at Tuesday's meeting, including Hilton Head High student and program participant Grace Lifer.

"It challenges students in all areas of knowledge, including areas that are not necessarily a forte," she said.

Without the encouragement of the IB program, Lifer said it is unlikely she would have added to her schedule rigorous courses in her weaker subjects such as science and foreign language.

The IB program, developed by a nonprofit Swiss foundation, aims to develop the intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills students need in a globalizing world, according to the IB website. High school juniors and seniors can participate in the organization's two-year diploma program that gives them a chance to earn college credit.

The board's vote follows a consultant's cost-benefit analysis that recommended the district's IB diploma programs be discontinued. Those consultants also recommended discontinuing primary- and middle-years IB programs at local schools. However, district administration has not yet made its proposal to the board on the future of elementary and middle school programs.

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