Put long-term planning before short-term fixes

info@islandpacket.comMarch 7, 2013 

Waiting until next month to decide what to do about crowded middle schools in Bluffton shouldn't be the end of the world.

When a recommended short-term solution comes with a $2 million price tag, Beaufort County school board members ought to be confident it's the right call before saying "yes."

And as some members of the committee that studied the issue for the board suggest, it makes sense to know the long-term plan before spending that kind of money on a temporary move.

Board members voted 6-5 Tuesday to wait until after they discuss a five-year strategic plan at a work session next month, which also should include input from the district's new superintendent.

The Bluffton Community Committee has recommended the district put modular classrooms at Bluffton High School and move ninth-graders back to the school this fall. That would free up space at H.E. McCracken Middle School and allow that school and Bluffton Middle School to return to serving sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.

Committee spokesman and Bluffton High School principal Mark Dievendorf said the recommendation would ease alignment of curriculum and buy the middle schools three to four years before they reach capacity. That would give the district time to plan and build a new middle school by 2016, with a high school to follow in 2018.

This kind of numbers question isn't new for the school district. That's why coming up with long-term plan should be a higher priority than the interim moves they've been making.

The middle school situation was born of overcrowding at Bluffton High School in 2010.

The board considered sending some students to Hilton Head Island High School or Battery Creek High School, but decided instead to expand Bluffton Middle School, then under construction, from 850 students to 1,100 students at a cost of $1.1 million. (The additional construction money was already in hand, and the school had been designed to expand.) That allowed the board to send sixth- and seventh-graders to Bluffton Middle School and eighth- and ninth-graders to H.E. McCracken Middle School for at least two years. District projections in 2010 showed McCracken reaching capacity by the 2013-14 school year.

And here we are, right on schedule. If there's an emergency, it's self-inflicted. It's hard to understand why we're in a situation where modular classrooms must be ordered this week for the next school year and a month's delay in making a decision on what to do will set everything asunder.

There must be a better way to anticipate and accommodate changing student populations and make use of existing school buildings.

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