Beaufort News

New school board member has new plan for Beaufort school zones

A new member of the Beaufort County Board of Education has proposed changing the grade configurations of several schools in the Beaufort High School cluster to avoid moving students in Mossy Oaks and Port Royal to Battery Creek High School.

Lady's Island representative Bill Evans, elected in November, gave information about his idea to the board Saturday and plans to seek community input during meetings scheduled to review the 2011-12 budget.

The plan has not been formally discussed by the board. Chairman Fred Washington Jr. said he expects the board to take up the proposal within the next month or so, but no date has been set.

Evans' plan would serve all sixth- and seventh-graders in the Beaufort cluster at Lady's Island Middle School, move them to Beaufort Middle School for grades eight and nine, then move them to Beaufort High for grades 10 through 12. Other elements of the plan would affect student assignments at surrounding elementary schools.

The proposal follows the reasoning of the board's decision last year to change grade configurations -- instead of attendance zones -- in the Bluffton area to alleviate overcrowding at Bluffton High School, Evans said. The district now serves Bluffton's sixth- and seventh-graders at Bluffton Middle School and eighth- and ninth-graders at H.E. McCracken Middle School. Those students move to the high school as sophomores.

Evans said his plan would alleviate crowding at Beaufort High while keeping intact the traditional attendance zones that send Mossy Oaks and Port Royal students to the school. The board is considering reassigning students from those areas to Battery Creek High School, an option several parents have protested.

Evans believes his proposal would make good use of existing buildings by balancing enrollment between crowded schools and those with extra space. He said instructional continuity also would improve if all students in the Beaufort cluster come together in grade six, instead of attending two different middle schools and trying to reconcile differences in their academic programs in the ninth grade.

Evans also said filling Battery Creek now might handcuff the district later, if it experiences growth near Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort as a result of the Joint Strike Fighter squadrons scheduled to begin arriving in January 2014.

Population growth in the Bluffton area after the economy improves also is a factor, Evans said. He said the district might have to move students from just south of the Broad River Bridge to Battery Creek if Bluffton High fills up before the community is ready to approve bonds to build another high school.

"I don't want to see us fill Battery Creek with students from Mossy Oaks and Port Royal when we're not sure what the future is going to demand as far as having space available at Battery Creek," he said.