Beaufort County school board amends attendance zone plan, to vote Tuesday

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comMarch 29, 2014 

After several months of working to create new attendance zones, the Beaufort County school board got down to business on the second day of its two-day work session Saturday.

The board modified the zones around Coosa Elementary School and Hilton Head Island schools in a plan it will vote on at its Tuesday meeting.

The first amendment allows students within a mile of Coosa to attend the school -- as the zones currently are drawn.

The other change keeps students from The Gatherings, Moss Creek and Buckingham Landing neighborhoods attending Hilton Head Island schools, sending students only in the Old South community to Bluffton facilities.

"I think that the board has heard a lot of discussion and concerns from the public, and each board member has listened carefully to and advocated for what was extremely important to their constituents," board member Evva Anderson said.

But do these amendments solve the district's problem of under- and overcrowded schools?

"I think the board has put together a plan, with the modifications they made today, that will be sufficient to address their parameters," superintendent Jeff Moss said. "And part of those parameters is allowing room for future growth."

"I think parents should feel confident that the board has designed an attendance zone plan for the district that has solved a lot of the attendance and enrollment problems going forward," Moss added.

At town hall and board meetings over the past several months, parents have opposed Moss' original plan -- which sent students within a mile of Coosa Elementary to Lady's Island Elementary School.

A zone change is necessary because of an October board decision to bring all fifth-graders back to elementary schools, Moss said. Board members said they understood some Coosa students would have to make the switch to Lady's Island Elementary, but felt it was important to make room for those families so close to the school.

The modification keeps 80 students within a mile of the school at Coosa. With the addition of five modular units, Coosa would be at about 87 percent capacity.

"I know something is going to have to give at Coosa, and that is hard for me to say," board chairman Bill Evans said. "But I would hope that we might be able to keep to that one parameter, an important one, of keeping kids within a mile at the school."

Many parents from the Moss Creek, The Gatherings, Buckingham Landing and Old South neighborhoods have also asked for Moss' plan to be changed so they could remain in Hilton Head schools -- which are nearing capacity.

Old South has the largest number of students -- about 140 -- while the three other communities have less than that combined, about 120 students. Those numbers were a major factor in the board's decision to send Old South students to Bluffton schools, where two new schools are being built to create room for the growing student population.

Keeping those three neighborhoods zoned to Hilton Head puts all of the island's schools at around 85 percent capacity -- leaving some, but not much, room for academic choice, Anderson said.

"I think that we are still going to have enrollment issues on Hilton Head either way," she said. "So it would have freed up some space in the schools, but not enough to make it worth moving all those students."

The board will have one final discussion of the amended plan at its Tuesday meeting before voting to approve it or make additional changes.

The zones for northern Beaufort County schools will go into effect next school year.

Those for the county's southern schools take effect when the new Bluffton schools open.

"Redistricting has been an issue not just for the last several months, but for several years," Evans said. "But I really think we have done a great job with tackling it and are almost done."

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

Related content:

School attendance zones recommendation still unmade, March 19, 2014

Coosa Elementary parents question proposed attendance zone changes, February 25, 2014

School board hears concerns from Moss Creek parents at first meeting, February 3, 2014

Committee decides on attendance zone plan to take to community, January 30, 2014

Student Services Committee approves parameters for new attendance zones, October 21, 2013

Beaufort schools move forward on plan to add modular units at Coosa Elementary, January 7, 2014

School board votes to change grade configurations at district schools, October 25, 2013

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