Board decision on projects only sensible thing to do

The Beaufort County Board of Education was right to halt construction projects at schools that it might close.

It was also right to allow renovations to proceed where the work will make a material difference to the health and comfort of students and faculty. Both decisions are nods to pragmatism, which will be needed to help the board negotiate tight budgets that do not figure to loosen any time soon.

The board voted 6-5 on June 9 to immediately suspend about $1.3 million in capital improvements at schools that could close for the 2012-13 school year. Projects at Shell Point and Lady's Island elementary schools and Robert Smalls Middle School are on hold pending a decision on school closures, vice chairman George Wilson said.

The elementary schools are slated for possible closure on a list of options district officials are considering. The middle school could be consolidated with Battery Creek High School.

The work at those schools was to include projects such as computer lab and scoreboard additions and major painting projects, Wilson said.

"We don't want to do a lot of expenditures and then come around and shut down the school," he said.

The board will pay some penalties for halting the projects, but moving ahead would be foolish. The district has excess classroom space and likely diminishing revenue as a result of the economic downturn and reduced property values.

The board hasn't shown much stomach for the idea so far. In the face of public criticism, earlier this school year, it shied away from a proposal to close Shell Point Elementary. But consolidating schools to reduce overhead is one obvious way to cut costs.

The public also should be realistic about this prospect.

Still, the board might have engendered a small measure of good will by a cut it didn't make. In a separate vote, it allowed improvements to the heating system at Robert Smalls Middle to continue, citing the welfare of students who will attend classes there in 2011-12 no matter the school's fate beyond the next school year.

No one likes to see projects halted or schools closed. But no one wants to see their money squandered, either.