Beaufort News

Panel votes to close Shell Point, Port Royal elementaries, postpones final decision

A school closures task force Wednesday narrowly voted to close Shell Point Elementary in addition to Port Royal Elementary, but postponed a final recommendation to the Beaufort County Board of Education.

During the meeting, district staff told the task force that both schools could be closed. Previously, staff had said only one or the other could be closed.

The panel voted 9-6 at its June 29 meeting to close Port Royal Elementary rather than Shell Point.

On Wednesday, members voted 5-4 to close both, with several representatives abstaining.

The move would require moving the fifth grade at Robert Smalls and Beaufort middle schools.

Constance Goodwine-Lewis, principal of Broad River Elementary, voted against the proposal along with representatives of the Battery Creek cluster of schools on the panel.

"This is new information," she said of the staff update. "We were told before it was either or and can't be both. We want more information in terms of numbers, (zoning) lines and growth."

At the end of the 3-hour meeting, the task force decided to have meet again Wednesday instead of delivering its final report to the Board of Education on Tuesday.

The board makes the final decision on school closures. That decision then must be approved by the federal Office of Civil Rights.

THE BACKGROUND

It's not the first time Shell Point Elementary has been recommended for closure.

A report prepared by district staff and delivered to the board in November also suggested shutting the school. After parents there fought the proposal, the board agreed to leave all schools open for another year.

Facing budget shortfalls, the board voted in May to compile another list of schools that could be closed beginning in the 2012-13 school year and created the task force to gather more public input

The advisory panel's preliminary decision to close Port Royal Elementary has the town, parents and supporters upset. Several town officials joined Jo Shirley, the school's principal, at Wednesday's meeting. Shirley said the proposal to close the 100-year-old school came "out of the blue."

District chief operational services officer Phyllis White, one of several district staff members assisting the task force, said staff didn't recommend closing Port Royal Elementary last year based on several criteria:

  • It's a neighborhood community school.
  • most children walk to school.
  • its 1910 deed reverts ownership of the building to the town if it stops being a school -- a loss to the district of an asset worth up to $15-million dollars because of extensive renovations, White said.
  • However, the majority of the task force viewed the school reverting to the town as a bonus because the district wouldn't have to pay maintenance costs. Members have also said the move would disrupt fewer children because Port Royal Elementary is one of the smallest in the district.

    According to a staff analysis, closing Port Royal Elementary would save the district about $789,000 a year. That figure does not include an $85,000 yearly expense to bus its nearly 300 students to other schools should it close.

    Closing Shell Point Elementary would save $890,600 a year and would not cost the district any additional yearly expense.

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    Preliminary school-closure list ruffles Port Royal parents, community, July 11, 2011

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