Committee examines short-term options to ease crowding in Bluffton schools

tbarton@beaufortgazette.comJanuary 17, 2013 

Phyllis White, the chief operational services officer of the Beaufort County School District, addresses the Bluffton Community Committee during its second meeting on Thursday night at Bluffton Middle School. The committee, made up of 27 teachers and principals and a Bluffton High School student, has been tasked with finding long-term and short-term solutions to crowding at Bluffton and H.E. McCracken middle schools.

DELAYNA EARLEY, STAFF PHOTO — null

Moving ninth-graders to Bluffton High School -- rather than sixth-graders to elementary schools -- would cost a third as much and present fewer problems, a committee looking at crowding at Bluffton and H.E. McCracken middle schools learned Thursday.

Moving sixth-graders to the elemenatries would require adjustments to curriculum and electives, whereas moving ninth graders back to the high school would not, the Bluffton Community Committee was told.

Sending ninth-graders to the high school would also avoid the increased costs that would come with offering high school courses at Bluffton and McCracken middle schools. Moving sixth graders to the elementaries would also mean sending seventh- through ninth-graders to the middle schools.

"Ninth grade is a much more natural fit with Bluffton High School and would be a much easier transition because the school is accustomed to having them," said Beaufort County School District operations chief Phyllis White. "The school was designed to accommodate ninth grade. With the elementary schools, that may not be the case with moving sixth grade there. There would have to be more adjustments made."

School district officials have said the two middle schools are too crowded to maintain their current grade structures this fall.

Sixth- and seventh-graders currently attend Bluffton Middle. Eighth- and ninth-graders attend McCracken.

Those grade structures -- unique to those two schools -- were established in 2011 and designed as a temporary fix to address overcrowding at Bluffton High School.

Moving sixth-grade classes would mean adding eight mobile classrooms at three schools -- Okatie, Red Cedar and Pritchardville elementaries.

The cost of doing so is roughly $1.5 million, district facilities planning and construction officer Robert Oetting said.

Adding eleven "double-wide" mobiles with two classrooms each to the high school would cost $600,000 -- if the district bought "basic, used ones," Oetting said.

If those units were new, the cost would be about $1 million, he said.

A "multi-unit, modular plan" of two, sectioned pods would cost about $2 million, Oetting said.

Either of the student moving options, however, would still leave the district facing capacity issues in Bluffton in just five years.

The committee is expected to present short-term solutions to the board of education by March, and long-term ones by May. Thursday's meeting, the second by the committee, focused on short-term solutions.

Bluffton High School principal Mark Dievendorf, who was elected spokesperson of the group during the meeting, said the committee needs more time to vet all options, but felt it was getting close to narrowing its focus.

"Hopefully, after next week, we'll have only a couple of options left or (get) to a point where we can talk to the board," Dievendorf.

The committee meets again at 6 p.m. Thursday at Bluffton Middle School.

Related content: Committee hears option to ease crowding in Bluffton schools: Jan. 10, 2013

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