School board votes to change grade configurations at district schools

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comOctober 25, 2013 

Bill Payne Jr. is sworn in by Jim Grimsely as his wife, Marion, holds a Bible.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

All Beaufort County School District fifth-graders will return to elementary schools starting next school year as the Board of Education satisfied a request long voiced by some parents during many past meetings.

The board voted 10 to 1 for the change, with JoAnn Orischak voting against it because she said she wanted more time to consider the options.

The board's two-day work session concludes today with meetings at the district office.

The shuffling will have the greatest effect in northern Beaufort County, where Robert Smalls Middle School will lose some fifth-graders but also be reconfigured to serve other students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

The decision also brings fifth-graders back to Coosa Elementary School from Lady's Island Middle School, and back to Joseph S. Shanklin Elementary and Broad River Elementary schools from Robert Smalls Middle.

The board's decision comes about a month after it decided to bring fifth grade back to Lady's Island Elementary School from Lady's Island Middle.

ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS

Superintendent Jeffrey Moss told the board that Shanklin, currently at 69 percent capacity, has enough room to accommodate a return of fifth-grade students.

However, the other two elementary schools lack the capacity -- Coosa and Broad River are at 94 percent, according to this school year's 45-day enrollment figures.

So to make the move in time for the 2014-15 school year, Moss said the district will need to add modular units -- which are several connected units unlike freestanding mobile units -- at Coosa Elementary, at a cost of about $350,000 to $400,000. That money will come from funds set aside in 2011 for capital projects and which can be spent without approval in a referendum.

District operations chief Phyllis White said there is about $1.5 million of such money. Funds originally set aside for mobile units at Bluffton High School that are no longer needed can be used at Coosa instead, board Chairman Bill Evans said.

Moss said he suspects those pods will be there for three to four years, allowing the district to decide what kind of permanent structure needs to be built.

ROBERT SMALLS MIDDLE SCHOOL

Because Broad River Elementary also is near capacity, the district will make Robert Smalls a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school starting next year.

It's elementary attendance zone will be small but be used to ease crowding at Broad River. It also will allow for transfers from other district schools.

The new Davis Road elementary school in Bluffton will have a similar configuration and allow parents some options for placing their elementary school students. Several board members said they are pleased to offer the same choice in northern Beaufort County.

Evans said the Curriculum and Instruction Committee and the Student Services Committee will now discuss special academic programs and attendance zones, respectively, for Robert Smalls. They should have decisions on those by the end of this school year, Moss said.

The school is at only 57 percent of its capacity. Moss said he hopes 800 of its 1,085 seats will be used next year.

He said the other roughly $1 million in previously set aside, unused funds will be available to do any renovations needed at the middle school. He said he is confident the district will be able to complete these changes at Robert Smalls and Coosa on time and on budget.


In other action:

  • Bill Payne Jr. was sworn in as a board member, filling the District 10 seat.
  • The board approved a calendar of meeting dates for 2014.
  • The board approved an evaluation process for new superintendent Jeffrey Moss' six-month evaluation in January.
  • The board asked its Finance and Operations Committee to review Riverview Charter School's budget and make a recommendation at an upcoming meeting as to whether it is viable.
Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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