As debate gets started about what to do to relieve crowding at Bluffton's two middle schools, we have two suggestions:
This isn't a new topic. The Beaufort County school board wrangled with similar issues for nearly two years before settling on the current attendance zones. In a boom and bust period, it's been difficult to hit the right note on new construction versus new attendance zones.
In 2010, the board tackled overcrowding at Bluffton High School. It considered sending some students to Hilton Head Island High School or Battery Creek High School, but decided instead to expand Bluffton Middle School, then under construction, from 850 students to 1,100 students at a cost of $1.1 million. (The additional construction money was already in hand, and the school had been designed to expand.) That allowed the board to send sixth- and seventh-graders to Bluffton Middle School and eighth- and ninth-graders to H.E. McCracken Middle School for at least two years. District projections in 2010 showed McCracken reaching capacity by the 2013-14 school year.
That projection is proving true. District officials are warning that the two middle schools won't have enough room next school year. That might mean sending 470 ninth-graders to Bluffton High, which is at 78 percent capacity with 1,124 students in three grades.
Board members were told at a retreat last week that the district has two parcels and about $25 million from a 2008 bond issue. A $162.7 million school bond referendum that year included two new elementary schools for Bluffton and purchasing land for future Bluffton middle and high schools.
The second elementary school was put on hold, but land was purchased. Phyllis White, the district's chief of operations, said the money could be used to build an elementary school to house kindergarten through eighth grade.
That's one possible solution, as is sending some Bluffton High students to Hilton Head or Battery Creek high schools if there is room at those schools. That might forestall expensive construction until it's absolutely needed.
It's too soon to say what the optimal choice is, but it's not too soon for people to tune in to the debate and weigh in on the choices being considered.