Many lessons to learn from attendance shuffle

With its vote last week, the Beaufort County school board brought to a close a months-long debate over how to reconfigure school attendance zones to make the best use of its limited financial resources.

The board did what it had to do, and we applaud their tackling this difficult, emotional issue.

We suspect no one, including school board members and district staff, is completely satisfied with the outcome. The decisions to close Shell Point Elementary and shift fifth-graders to Robert Smalls Middle School did not come easily, nor should they.

Some objected to "revisiting" the decision on whether to send fifth-graders to the nearly empty middle school. But the motion at the board's Sept. 6 meeting failed on a tie vote, with one board member absent. That's not a decision; that's a default.

Based on its experience at Whale Branch Middle School and Lady's Island Middle School, we think the school district is prepared for shifting fifth-graders to Robert Smalls Middle School.

It is somewhat disappointing that the board put off for another year reassigning some students from Okatie Elementary and Red Cedar Elementary to Bluffton elementary.

Parents claimed that they didn't know about a decision that had come six weeks earlier and after public meetings were held.

They'll have a year now to get ready for it, but don't be surprised if we hear some of the same complaints as the 2013-2014 school year approaches.

Change never comes easy, particularly when it affects your children. But the bottom-line lesson of this hand-wringing exercise is that the school board must move very carefully and with the best information it can muster when it plans facilities.

That starts with not putting schools on a projects list to get support from a particular section of the county or to appear even-handed in building new schools. (See Whale Branch Early College High School.)

Schools should be built when and where they are needed. To do otherwise is to waste scarce resources and cause needless angst to many parents, as we've just witnessed.