Parents speak out on options to address overcrowding in Bluffton schools

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comSeptember 18, 2013 

Just as the number of students in Bluffton-area schools is growing, so, too, are the options for dealing with the problem.

Superintendent Jeffrey Moss added a third proposal at a special Board of Education meeting Wednesday night -- adding a wing to Bluffton High School.

The earlier options included:

  • building two new schools of choice in Bluffton;

  • sending student from Okatie-area schools to Battery Creek-area schools;

  • "I just wanted to provide all different kinds of options for the board to consider," Moss said Wednesday. "The solution needs to be what the board and the community think is best for the kids, and then we will make any of the options happen."

    At Wednesday's meeting, parents let the board know what they wanted -- and more importantly, what they didn't.

    And what they didn't want is Okatie students sent to northern Beaufort County.

    Heidi Hanson was among the 40 or so parents at Wednesday's meeting, half of them from the Okatie attendance zone. She captured what many of them were feeling.

    "Over the course of the last 12 hours, I discovered we were being considered to be sent to Battery Creek," she said. "I don't understand that, and I still don't understand that."

    Under the proposal, students in grades six through eight would move to Robert Smalls Middle School.

    Grades nine through 12 would attend Battery Creek High School.

    Bluffton students previously sent to Hilton Head schools would return to Bluffton schools.

    Moss said this option comes at no cost to the district since it uses seats currently available in the Battery Creek schools, which are operating at a little more than 50 percent of capacity.

    It does come with a cost to students, parents said.

    Among their concerns:

  • the amount of time students would spent on the bus -- which could be more than 70 minutes one-way in some cases, Moss said.

  • being out of the community they live in and far from their parents work.

  • Several board members, including Board Chairman Bill Evans, also expressed concern about the plan.

    "The proposal ... came out of a reality that there is lot more involved in this than just Bluffton," Evans said. "But I understand the opposition and personally have concerns about that."

    THE NEWEST OPTION

    Moss' newest option would add a new wing to Bluffton High School that could accommodate up to 1,000 students.

    This would make the school's enrollment around 2,500, Moss said.

    The addition would cost between $15 to $20 million and include new parking. But he added that the core facilities -- the gymnasium and auditorium, for example -- would be unchanged.

    Some parents and board members worried students wouldn't be as successful in such a "mega-high school." Many also felt it would offer only a short-term solution to the overcrowding problem.

    "We are just pushing off the inevitable," board member Paul Roth said. "I have some serious questions about whether are we really solving the problem or creating more human damage than is necessary to get this done right."

    Parents also had questions about Moss' initial proposal to build a new elementary school for kindergarten through eighth grade and a new middle-high school for sixth through 12th grade.

    Parents asked how the spots at these choice schools would be determined and how extra-curriculars and programs would be divided between the new middle-high school and Bluffton High.

    MORE MEETINGS PLANNED

    Evans said the school board hopes to make a decision at its Oct. 1 meeting, but is not required to do so.

    Another special meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday at the district office in Beaufort to discuss the proposals and one which would move fifth-graders back to Lady's Island Elementary School from Lady's Island Middle School.

    The board said it is considering adding another meeting next Thursday so that it hears from as many parents and community members as possible.

    "This decision is not an easy one," Moss said, "but we have to step back and think what is in the best interest of all the students we are serving."

    Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.


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    Video by reporter Sarah Bowman

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