School system considers rezoning to handle population boom in Bluffton

School system considers rezoning to handle population boom in Bluffton

BLUFFTON, SC (WTOC) - Some Beaufort County students may be attending new schools next year.

The Beaufort County School District is considering rezoning for the 2019-20 school year to handle the population boom in Bluffton and is hosting town hall meetings to get parent input. Last year, the district said it added 400 new students in Bluffton alone.

Buffy Snider has an 11-year-old and a 9-year-old attending Beaufort County Schools in Bluffton. They haven’t moved homes, but her children have moved schools several times in the last few years.

“This is the second time in three years that my neighborhood has been rezoned,” Snider said. “It’s frustrating.”

She isn’t alone.

“My children have been rezoned six times in 12 years,” said parent Amanda Walrad. “It’s a little overwhelming. I think we need to give some consideration to children that have been moved multiple times. Their community school has been disrupted over and over and over again. There’s no consistency in education that way.”

A bond referendum last spring would have funded a new school building in Bluffton and expansions at two existing schools, including River Ridge Academy, but voters didn’t pass it. Beaufort County Schools says the only remaining option was installing mobile classrooms.

River Ridge Academy is one Bluffton school using a mobile classroom this year to help reduce class size.

“We’ve been very fortunate to have a portable this year to take away from that overcrowding,” said River Ridge Academy Principal Gary McCulloch.

Not every school in Bluffton has space for mobile classrooms, so the district says proposed rezoning would move students out of the most overcrowded schools onto campuses with room for mobiles.

“There’s only so much land that we have to put mobiles on,” parent Bill Fletcher said. “In fact, the district tells us that by 2021 there will be no more land on which to put mobiles, and then what are we going to do? So in the meantime, we’re purchasing mobiles, putting them on land that’s going to fill up, and then it’s going to be time to build. In the meantime we’ve spent millions of dollars ton temporary solutions to deal with the problem. It’s not a wise use of taxpayer money in the long run.”

Fletcher has lived in Bluffton for 20 years, and all four of his children have attended the same schools. He has two students currently at Bluffton High School whom he is particularly concerned about moving.

“Now we’re looking in what should be their most enjoyable time in their high school years being switched over to a high school across town 15 minutes further than the high school that we’re going to right now,” Fletcher said. “These are children we’re talking about. They aren’t statistics. They aren’t numbers. It’s about their education. It’s about the teachers they’ve formed a relationship with over the years. It’s not in the best educational interest to be moving them from school to school.”

The district says the town hall meetings are an opportunity for parents to express those opinions, but McCulloch says Bluffton’s rapid growth is undeniable. When River Ridge Academy opened four years ago, McCulloch said about 920 students attended. Now, there are more than 1,200.

“We understand that rezoning is not going to be popular, but if rezoning isn’t on the table for discussion in this coming year, then our school will be looking at about 1,325 - 1,350 students,” McCulloch said. “You know, at what point do we stop adding to some of our schools?”

Last year, McCulloch says the biggest classes at River Ridge Academy had 42 students.

“Ideally, we want to be at a lower class size in our classes and having our portable unit has certainly done that,” he said.

Parents say they don’t want their children in huge classes, but they don’t want their children moving either.

“It’s difficult,” Snider said. “You want them to have a sense of community in their lives, which is their school. You want them to make friends that they know they’re going to have around. What concerns me is they’re going to move us to one, and then in another couple of years, move us back to the other. That’s what I don’t like is the constant changing.”

She hopes the school board and district can come up with creative solutions to create stability.

“I think one of the things they need to look at doing is not moving the same neighborhoods,” Snider said. “There are multiple neighborhoods that have been every year to every other year, and they seem to picking the exact same neighborhoods to do that.”

Long term, she says the district needs to explain to taxpayers the importance of financial support to build new classrooms and schools.

Several town hall meetings were rescheduled because of Hurricane Florence, so the revised schedule is as follows:

· Sept. 20 – Whale Branch Early College High, 6 p.m. (rescheduled from Sept. 12)

· Sept. 24 – Hilton Head Island High, 6 p.m.

· Sept. 26 – May River High, 6 p.m. (rescheduled from Sept. 11)

· Sept. 27 – Bluffton Middle-Spanish language, 6 p.m. (rescheduled from Sept. 13)

· Oct. 3 – Battery Creek High (also Islands Academy), 6 p.m.

· Oct. 29 – Beaufort High, 6 p.m.

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