Beaufort News

After tense meeting, school board leaves Beaufort High attendance zones unchanged - for now

A nearly two-year battle over Beaufort High School's attendance boundaries ended Tuesday when the Board of Education voted to leave the school's zone intact for at least the next two or three years.

The real potential for overcrowding, one school official told board members, is south of the Broad River in Bluffton's schools.

Tuesday's meeting was at times as tense as past public hearings, when vocal parents blasted plans to redraw the school's boundary lines.

In fact, Chairman Fred Washington Jr. surrendered his gavel after a disagreement with board member Michael Rivers about a loosely related topic.

Rivers interrupted Washington as the chairman attempted to answer a question Rivers asked.

"This is a waste of time," Washington said, adding Rivers was not listening to his answer because he had a preconceived idea of what it should be.

Washington challenged the board to vote on whether he acted out of order by cutting off the conversation, but the board did not vote. Washington voluntarily gave up the gavel to vice chairman George Wilson, who presided over the rest of the meeting.

The decision to keep Beaufort High's attendance zone intact came with the endorsements of superintendent Valerie Truesdale and Beaufort High principal Dan Durbin.

Both said recent efforts to restrict out-of-zone transfers to the school and last year's decision to move all students in the Beaufort Elementary zone to Battery Creek will effectively relieve the overcrowding problem.

The district said the 1,595-capacity school now serves 1,541 students.

That's down from 1,700 students last school year

"A lot of things have converged to make a little bit of a difference," Truesdale said.

"We're not really an overcrowded school," Durbin agreed.

Despite those opinions, the board spent much of the 2-hour plus meeting continuing to debate options for reducing overcrowding at the school, including a proposal to change grade configurations in the Beaufort cluster.

That frustrated some board members.

"This is ridiculous," board member Earl Campbell said after two hours. "I could have stayed at home ... . Beaufort High does not have a problem now, so why do we keep discussing it?"

IS BLUFFTON THE NEXT PROBLEM AREA?

Durbin said by focusing on Beaufort High, the board was avoiding the more pressing issue of the expected growth that will soon cause more severe overcrowding in Bluffton.

"You have spent this entire time talking about Beaufort High School and you have got a problem south of the Broad," he said. "And that's the elephant in this room."

The board briefly discussed capacity issues in Bluffton both on Tuesday and at its weekend attendance zone work session in March. However, the Bluffton issues haven't received the same attention as attendance boundaries in the northern part of the county.

District data show all schools in the Bluffton cluster will be at capacity by 2015, and middle and high schools could reach capacity earlier.

District officials recommended the board study at its summer work session the possibility of building a ninth-grade addition to Bluffton High to accommodate additional students. They also recommended reassigning to other Bluffton schools some students at the already-full Okatie and Red Cedar elementary schools.

Board member Steven Morello warned the district might have to change attendance zones and move some Bluffton students to schools in other parts of the county with more space.

"Down the road, we're going to have to change some of these lines to make the best use of our space and make the best use of our tax dollars," he said.

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