School district considers countywide attendance zones

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comSeptember 24, 2013 

  • Fiffth-graders to return to Lady's Island Elementary

    The Beaufort County School Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to return fifth graders to Lady's Island Elementary School for the 2014-15 school year.

    "I didn't realize they would actually vote on it tonight, but this was a long time coming. We are so happy to be victorious," said elementary principal Marvelle Ulmer.

    Fifth-graders were moved to the middle school four years ago because of overcrowding at the elementary level, School Board Chairman Bill Evans said.

    But Ulmer said overcrowding is no longer an issue and the school has room to accommodate either two or three fifth grade classes. The school submitted floor plans to the board and district that allow for both.

    At Tuesday night's meeting at the district office, several parents asked the board to approve the change and many more thanked them after they had.

    Ulmer said the move does not create additional costs for transportation or the cafeteria. She said while the school has a lot of work ahead of it, "we are definitely ready for this."

At one point Tuesday night, Beaufort County School Superintendent Jeffrey Moss said he was out of proposals to address enrollment concerns across the district.

Then he came up with one more.

During a special meeting of the Board of Education to discuss several proposals already on the table, Moss added another plan to the mix -- one that would redraw attendance zones across the district to balance enrollment numbers and racial composition among the county's schools.

Moss said his latest proposal grew out of questions and concerns he heard from board members and the community.

He also said he wanted to take a county-wide approach to addressing the issues, something that hadn't been done in the district before.

"I don't think anyone has really looked at the whole county before; certain areas or issues where picked off one at a time," Moss said. "But this seemed like a good opportunity ... to address multiple problems."

Under his newest plan, all schools in the district would revert to traditional grade configurations.

Elementary schools include grades K through five.

Middle schools would teach students in grades six through eight.

High schools would include students in grades nine through 12.

Moss said he used an 85 percent capacity target for all the schools in developing the plan. That would use available space to handle a growing student population.

He also said he has been working with the U.S. Office for Civil Rights to make sure the district maintains the allowable racial composition of students spread among the schools.

Moss' new proposal would send Okatie-area students at the middle and high school levels to Battery Creek-area schools.

Hilton Head schools would be attended only by students who live on the island.

Beaufort Middle School would most likely be converted to a choice school because space there would not be needed to address overcrowding.

For maps of Moss' proposal, click the links at right.

Many board members said they appreciated the county-wide approach to attendance zones, but still had some concerns.

The plan would still leave Bluffton High School above capacity, some of them said.

Board Chairman Bill Evans said the proposed boundary changes will probably upset many in the community. He said the board wants to make sure the proposal would solve the problem.

A number of residents spoke at the meeting, many voicing support for a second high school in Bluffton and opposition to Okatie students being moved northern Beaufort County.

"We are from Bluffton, we are Blufftonians," said Kim Rios, a parent of six children at Okatie Elementary School. "Our family is here, our church is here, our schools are here so we should be able to attend them -- this is our community."

Several board members asked Moss to explore a way to balance the enrollment without sending students from the southern part of the county across the Broad River.

Moss said he would present another proposal addressing those concerns and bringing several of his previous proposals together at a special meeting Thursday in the Bluffton High auditorium. A specific time has not been announced.

The three proposals currently on the table to address overcrowding in Bluffton-area schools would:

  • build two new choice schools in Bluffton.
  • send Okatie-area students to Battery Creek-area schools.
  • build a new wing at Bluffton High School to accommodate 1,000 students.

Evans said he is glad the board has many options to consider, but doesn't want board members to get bogged down by them.

"I think we're going to end up with a hybrid of all of these proposals that will make a majority of the county happy, but some will be unhappy," he said. "But this is a huge decision, and we are talking about millions of dollars and impacting thousands of kids."

Moss said he would recommend a course of action Thursday.

The board has a target date to decide at its Oct. 1 meeting.

Evans called the date "doable."

However, if the board doesn't decide by then, it must by the Oct. 15 school board meeting.

"The longer the board postpones making a decision to put us on a path, it exacerbates the problem we are seeing in Bluffton," Moss said.

Documents: Beaufort County School District proposed attendance zones

High school (Click here for full-size version. Note that this is a very large file and might take some time to download completely.)

Middle school (Click here for full-size version. Note that this is a very large file and might take some time to download completely.)

Elementary school (Click here for full-size version. Note that this is a very large file and might take some time to download completely.)

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