Get a solid plan in place for Bluffton's schools

info@islandpacket.comApril 17, 2013 

School board members say they want to make sure they have a long-term plan for dealing with crowded Bluffton schools before implementing any short-term solutions.

That's a good idea.

It also was a good idea in November 2012 when the board created a community advisory committee to recommend what to do and asked the committee to come up with a short-term solution two months before the deadline for a long-term plan.

And it was a good idea in January 2010 when the board came up with the short-term solution of keeping rising ninth-graders at H.E. McCracken Middle School to relieve crowding at Bluffton High School, projecting -- accurately -- that Bluffton's two middle schools would reach capacity by the 2013-2014 school year.

The Bluffton Community Committee had recommended in March that 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 and allow that school and Bluffton Middle School to return to serving sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. Committee members said the plan would buy the middle schools three to four years before they reach capacity again, and it would give the district time to plan and build a new middle school by 2016, with a high school to follow in 2018. The estimated cost for the modular classrooms was $2 million.

But board members on Tuesday voted 9-1 to leave things as they are for now while they develop a long-term plan. That move came after a month-long delay that community members said put at risk getting the modular classrooms ordered in time for the fall.

So we ask now, what are school board members going to do to make sure they have a good, long-term strategic plan for handling growth in Bluffton's student population?

Will they look at changing attendance zones for Bluffton, Hilton Head Island and Battery Creek high schools to forestall the need to build a new high school in the Bluffton area? Will they look at enrollments in Bluffton's five elementary schools to see whether shifting sixth-graders to elementary schools would relieve crowding at H.E. McCracken and Bluffton middle schools as they consider when to build another new middle school or elementary school? Do they have the updated enrollment projections they need to make informed decisions? How soon will they have a plan? And what will they do about crowded conditions at the two existing middle schools for the coming school year?

The most unsettling part of the discussion over the past five months hasn't been any of the recommendations made nor the potential costs nor the debate over whether a short-term solution should be approved before a long-term solution. The unsettling part is that the debate came in late 2012 and 2013 and not in 2010 or 2011.

Yes, some of the school board members weren't in office when previous decisions were made -- or not made. The 2012 election brought many new faces to the board. But that won't be the case moving ahead.

Let's figure this out.

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