The Beaufort County Board of Education reviewed but did not vote on a recommendation Thursday to close Port Royal and Shell Point elementary schools, estimated to save more than $2 million annually and eliminate about 2,500 empty seats.
The board also heard a recommendation from a task force studying 2012-13 school year closures to add fifth grade to Beaufort and Robert Smalls middle schools and close the James J. Davis and St. Helena Early Childhood centers, moving children there to nearby elementary schools.
The board said it plans to vote Aug. 5 on the recommendations.
Task force spokeswoman Deeni Everly presented each option Thursday at the school board's planning retreat. Everly said the task force's concerns included keeping students from traveling too far and saving the district money.
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Several board members questioned a 5-4 vote by the task force July 13 to recommend closing Shell Point Elementary and Port Royal Elementary schools, when five task force members abstained. The task force added Shell Point to the closures list because of building location, age, drainage issues and need for renovations, according to the report.
School board member Julie Bell asked why the task force voted to recommend closing Port Royal Elementary when, according to its 1910 deed, it reverts back to the town of Port Royal if it stops being a school.
When district staff prepared a report in November, it dropped the school from the list of proposed closings because it is valued at up to $15 million because of recent renovations, and it would cost the district $85,000 a year to bus students to other schools.
Everly said the task force focused on the maintenance costs closing the school would eliminate.
"I don't understand that thinking," Bell said. "I think we also need to appreciate that they're only making a recommendation to us."
Some audience members had other cost-cutting ideas.
Andrea Canaday, who serves on committees at Battery Creek High School and Robert Smalls Middle School, said Board of Education members need to cut district staff salaries, implement furlough days or lay off workers to make ends meet instead of closing schools.
"The district needs to be good stewards of (taxpayer) money," Canaday said. "And they need to do it in a way that doesn't jeopardize education."
About 50 people attended the task force's presentation, including Port Royal town and school officials and parents of Shell Point Elementary children, some of them wearing T-shirts with the school's logo. Lady's Island Elementary parent Ivie Szalai organized a few parents from various schools to wear red to mean "stop school closures."
Linda Goodman, a grandparent of a Port Royal Elementary student, said closing a school would affect more than just the students who attended it. If Port Royal Elementary was shuttered, students would be bused to Mossy Oaks, and some Mossy Oaks students would be transferred to Beaufort Elementary.
"They need to understand the impact of shifting these kids on all schools," Goodman said.
The board's meeting on school closures is tentatively scheduled for 10 a.m. Aug. 5 at the district Educational Center on Mink Point Boulevard in Beaufort. Board members stressed the importance of televising the meeting.
Board Chairman Fred Washington said board members have promised to let parents know if there will be school closures by October. The U.S. Office for Civil Rights would have to approve any decision to close schools before it could be enacted.