The Beaufort County Board of Education will appeal a recent court decision in a dispute with Riverview Charter School over its enrollment, its chairman said Friday.
In early February, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that Riverview can enroll as many as 456 students next school year and 494 in the 2013-14 school year.School board Chairman Fred Washington Jr. said the board seeks clarity about enrollment in subsequent years, through the school's buildout in 2019-20.
"I think it's important to try to get closure to it," Washington said. "Let's not go through this again."
Riverview officials have said they hope to enroll 684 students for the 2019-20 school year, which would equal four classes of 19 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
A statement Friday from the board says that plan is not in keeping with Riverview's goal to be a "small, intimate" school.
Riverview board communications chair Courtney Smith disagreed, citing a 537-student average in the district's elementary schools, according to 45-day enrollment figures. The average middle school has 713 students.
"We're talking about kindergarten all the way through eighth grade," she said.
Smith said any enrollment figures beyond the 2013-14 school year would have to be approved by the county school board. Riverview has only had plans for its first five years approved.
"We've all known that we would then have to submit an additional plan," she said. "But we've also all known that Riverview's plan was for four sections of 19 students per grade for grades kindergarten through eighth. We knew that additional enrollment would be included in years six through 10."
Riverview director Alison Thomas said the school wouldn't submit a plan for the years 2014-15 and beyond for at least another 18 months.
The school board's statement also said a federal court did not have jurisdiction in the case, and Washington noted that the judge stated as much several times during the three-day trial.
But it was the school district that asked that the case to be moved to federal court. The lawsuit originally was filed by Riverview in the Beaufort County Court of Common Pleas in April 2011. Board attorney John Regle said Jan. 31 that the case was removed to federal court because of concerns related to Riverview's minority enrollment levels and the district's desegregation agreement with the federal Office for Civil Rights.
Washington referred questions about the district's motion to move the case to Regle; attempts Friday to reach him were unsuccessful.
Neither side is sure just how much the lawsuit will cost.
Washington said he did not have an estimate on Friday, but hoped to have an answer soon. He said there have been no discussions of either side shouldering the other's costs.
"Personally, we didn't bring the suit, and I don't think we should be responsible," he said. "But that's not something we're dealing with right now."
Smith also was unsure how much the case had cost Riverview but said the school has depleted its legal budget for this fiscal year. If the appeal goes forward, the school will have to use money budgeted for another purpose or raise more.
Smith said the school is about 90-percent taxpayer funded.
Washington said the board will offer compromises to Riverview to resolve the issue out of court.
Both sides have stated they'd like to smooth their relationship.
When asked about that relationship, Smith said the appeal wouldn't help. Riverview officials were not given advance notice of the board's appeal, and Smith said she was surprised by the news.
"We had hoped to move forward from here and certainly not spend anymore time in the courtroom," she said. Thomas also said she was surprised by the appeal.
"I think this is the responsible thing to do," Washington said. "I see a desire for clarity given the ambiguities that we have had (about enrollment)."
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- More than 600 apply for up to 114 spots at Riverview Charter School; Feb. 8, 2012
- Judge rules in favor of Riverview in Beaufort County enrollment dispute; Feb. 1, 2012
- Trial between Riverview, school district continues; Jan. 31, 2012
- Riverview argues school district changed 'the rules of the game' in enrollment dispute; Jan. 30, 2012
- Riverview, school district headed to court over enrollment dispute; Jan. 25, 2012
- Riverview, school district urged to reach agreement over enrollment lawsuit; Dec. 2, 2011
- Riverview sues school district over enrollment dispute; April 5, 2011
- Riverview Charter School's 2011 state report card