Dispute over Jasper County school consolidation plan reignites

rheaton@beaufortgazette.comJune 6, 2012 

A decision on whether to consolidate some Jasper County schools in August is still up in the air.

A Jasper County School District Board of Trustees meeting ended abruptly Wednesday for the second time in a week. The board did not vote on the proposal to combine Hardeeville and Ridgeland middle schools and Hardeville and Ridgeland high schools.

Superintendent Vashti Washington has said that combining the schools will allow the district to offer a stronger curriculum while saving money.

Two consultants presented a report Wednesday that outlined four options. It was the first time the board had seen plans.

A May 29 meeting to consider the report ended abruptly when board member Randy Horton tried to raise concerns about Freedom of Information Act requests he has filed with the district. Wednesday's meeting ended the same way.

Options include:

  • Establishing a specialty school that would allow more upper level courses to be offered. Attendance zones would be changed to balance enrollment.

  • Restructure schools to be prekindergarten through sixth grade and seventh through 12th grades. Offer science and mathematics or other magnet programs.

  • House prekindergarten through sixth grade at both the Ridgeland and Hardeeville campuses. Put all sixth- through eighth-graders at one campus, and ninth- through 12th-graders at the other.

  • Rezone attendance areas to create a better balance and maintain the existing schools. Specialty programs would be offered.

  • Board members' reaction to the proposals were mixed. Several said they were concerned consolidation would mean longer bus rides for students.

    But some members said the bottom line was that the district needs to beef up its curriculum. The proposals are a way to do it, they said.

    No estimates about how the shift might affect bus times were included in the report.

    Board members also expressed concerns about consolidating on a tight timeline and how the curriculum would be strengthened.

    No cost estimates were given.

    Thirteen people of a sometimes rowdy crowd of at least 200 addressed the board. One began a chant of "No consolidation!" Others addressed concerns about district finances, called for a stronger curriculum and worried about how consolidation might affect Ridgeland Middle School's possible takeover by the state Department of Education.

    Additional public hearing are planned. One will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Hardeeville campus, 150 Hurricane Alley. The other will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Ridgeland campus, 250 Jaguar Trail.

    A decision on consolidation could come Monday when the board is slated to meet at 6:30 p.m. at the Hardeeville campus.

    Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.

    Related content:

    Jasper County School District considers school consolidation plans; May 30, 2012

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