District suggests closing Shell Point Elementary, St. Helena learning center to curtail capacity

Shell Point Elementary School and the St. Helena Early Learning Center could be closed to reduce excess capacity in Beaufort County's 30 public schools.

Shuttering the Shell Point school would save the district between $650,000 and $890,000 annually and reduce the district's capacity by 476 seats, Beaufort County School District operational services chief Phyllis White told the Board of Education at its fall work session Friday.

Closing the early childhood center on St. Helena would save the district between $66,000 and $100,000 annually and reduce the district's capacity by 238 seats, White said. She said the St. Helena center could be handed over to another government agency, such as Head Start, or given to the county for use as a library.

Those two closures are among several options presented to the board. Chairman Fred Washington Jr. said he expects the board will decide which schools to close -- if any -- by the end of the year.

The board first voted in September to consider closing some schools and asked staff for a report detailing the enrollment and capacity of each school. Beaufort County public schools are only 75 percent full and the district has more than 6,000 empty seats in its buildings, according to the report, given to the board in October.

The amount of excess space varies by geography, from 16 percent of space unused in Hilton Head Island schools to 42 percent in the northernmost part of the county.

At least one board member opposes closing Shell Point, located on Savannah Highway.

Ronald Speaks, who represents the Burton area, said closing the school would hurt the community.

"You think of the academics at Shell Point," he said. "Those students are doing exceptionally well. And you're going to rip those students out of the community?"

White said she and her staff considered the effects of closing each school before drafting a list of buildings most suited for closure. She said staffed used objective criteria and didn't begin the analysis with particular schools in mind.

"It was a very non-emotional process," she said.

Criteria included enrollment, capacity, growth potential, building condition, building age, distance to other public schools and the number of students affected. Staff also considered the marketability of the property for sale or lease and requirements from other organizations, such as the federal Office for Civil Rights and S.C. Department of Education.

District staff gave the board several options to consider for schools north of the Broad River. Plans to balance enrollment include changes to attendance zones and grade configurations, as well as closures.

Some changes are meant to reduce crowding at a handful of over-enrolled schools, such as Coosa Elementary and Beaufort High.

Proposed changes include:

  • Closing Shell Point Elementary. Both Broad River and Shanklin elementary schools would take in more students but only serve children through grade four. Robert Smalls Middle School would serve all students in grades five through eight in the Battery Creek attendance zone.
  • Reassigning some students in neighborhoods near Laurel Bay who now attend Shanklin Elementary to Whale Branch elementary and middle schools. Those students already are in the Whale Branch Early College High School attendance zone.
  • Reassigning students living east of Chowan Creek, who now attend Lady's Island Elementary, to St. Helena Elementary School.
  • Closing the St. Helena Early Learning Center and moving its students into the main elementary school building.
  • Reassigning students from the Port Royal and Mossy Oaks areas who now attend Beaufort High to Battery Creek High School.
  • The district did not recommend closing any schools in southern Beaufort County but suggested the board consider some attendance zone changes in the Bluffton area to reduce the population at Red Cedar Elementary and increase enrollment at Bluffton Elementary, where there are empty seats.