Okatie-area students won't go to northern Beaufort County, board decides

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comSeptember 26, 2013 

  • What's still on the table

  • Building two new choice schools in Bluffton -- a K-8 elementary school and a 6-12 middle-high school.

  • Building a new wing at Bluffton High School to accommodate 1,000 students.

  • Redrawing attendance zones across the entire district and adding a new Bluffton elementary and high school so Okatie-area students stay in Bluffton.

  • The board Thursday night approved a motion to remove two proposals that would have sent send Okatie-area students to northern Beaufort County.

The solution to overcrowding in county schools may still be in limbo, but one thing it won't involve is sending Okatie-area students to northern Beaufort County schools.

During a special meeting Thursday night -- the fourth by the Beaufort County Board of Education in the last three weeks -- the board removed two proposals that would have send southern county students across the Broad River.

Superintendent Jeffrey Moss then added another.

Moss said the new plan -- the fifth since the board began addressing the issue -- combines elements of several of the previous plans to help balance enrollment and racial compositions across the district.

It still redraws attendance zones throughout the county and returns all schools to traditional grade configurations.

Elementary schools would 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.

The new twist would build a new K-5 elementary school and a 9-12 high school in Bluffton that would have their own attendance zones. The new elementary school would be on Davis Road while the high school would rise on property near New Riverside. The board already owns both properties.

Moss said he expects construction on the two to be completed by December 2015.

The new high school would have its own sports teams and facilities and extra curricular programs.

"Both of those would allow for the growth we're anticipating to see over the course of the next five years," he said.

While the details of the schools still need to be firmed up, several board members, including Paul Roth and Earl Campbell, said they don't see a real choice when it comes to building them.

"I think we need to do it, and I think we need to do it now," Roth said.

OTHER CHANGES PROPOSED

Moss' proposal also includes changes and construction in northern Beaufort County.

Under the redrawn attendance zones, Beaufort Middle School would be converted to a K-8 choice school because space there is not needed to address overcrowding.

The plan would also bring fifth graders back to Coosa Elementary School, where Moss proposed building a new five-classroom wing to accommodate 100 students.

The bill building that wing and the two new Bluffton schools -- would be about $59 million, Moss said.

He estimates the Coosa wing would cost $1 million. It would be funded by the eight percent money the school is allowed to borrow from the state.

The new high school would cost about $40 million, he said, and would be paid for the same way.

The new elementary school would cost about $18 million and be paid for by $25 million set aside from an earlier bond issue.

That means the building costs would not require a tax increase, Moss said.

Board Chairman Bill Evans said the board hopes to decide on a plan at its Tuesday meeting. It must make a decision by the Oct. 15 school board meeting, Evans said, before the problem worsens.

The board has scheduled another meeting at the district office in Beaufort for 3 p.m. Tuesday before the regularly scheduled meeting at 6 p.m.

Evans said this will afford the board another opportunity to discuss the Bluffton options.

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


Documents: Beaufort County School District proposed attendance zones

All maps updated on Sept. 27, 2013

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.)


Presentation: Beaufort County Superintendent Jeffrey Moss' slides on school attendance zone changes

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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