BCSD board considering options in response to growth
Published Thursday, December 20, 2018
Dr. Tony Parker of Harding, Parker & Associates presented recommendations and research on growth to the Berkeley County Board of Education during the December 11, 2018 meeting. (BCSD photo)
Berkeley County School District is currently planning several discussions on suggested school redistricting. Those community conversations are expected to begin in January and are related to growth in the Cane Bay area of the county.
Suggested changes to school boundary lines for the Cane Bay schools came during the quarterly update on the master facility plan and research on growth in Berkeley County. The presentation was made by consultant Dr. Tony Parker of Harding, Parker & Associates.
Dr. Parker described changing attendance lines in that area as a "short term fix" to a long-term challenge the board and school district face with about 1,000 new students attending Berkeley County schools each year. While the suggestion to change attendance lines was among a handful of short-range, mid-range and long-range suggestions, Parker referred to the option as the "immediate challenge."
District 9 board representative Ann Conder said the option to redraw school attendance lines is "common sense" after hearing Dr. Parker’s presentation and seeing his identification of schools within a short drive of Cane Bay that are "underutilized."
Board Chair Sally Wofford said it's "irresponsible" to have such a situation where hundreds of students could be sent to a school that has seats to accommodate. She also agreed with Dr. Parker on the importance of community feedback.
"There’s gonna be emotional thoughts, ideas coming from your communities," Dr. Parker said. "Knowing this board as I do, I know you will listen to those and consider those in making your decisions. The fact remains, you have a growth issue to deal with."
Parker said a goal with any attendance lines changes would be to make those changes as long-lasting as possible. He stressed the suggested change in school boundaries is a temporary fix that would allow the county and school district time to prepare for major expenditures at current schools and facilities while preparing for the construction of new schools.
BCSD Superintendent Dr. Eddie Ingram said it’s a hope that any line changes would naturally fit with new construction and that altered feeder systems would stay in place.
“It takes about three years to build a school. …I know moving boundaries unnerves people, but to be honest, if you’re going to build a new school, you’re going to have to move people anyway,” Dr. Ingram said.
District 1 board representative Michael Ramsey, while acknowledging the suggested change in attendance lines, argued there was not room to consider otherwise.
“Really, we don’t have a choice. Cane Bay is exploding at the seams,” Ramsey said.
As the board considers changes in attendance lines, Dr. Parker strongly suggested the board work with Berkeley County on establishing impact fees for new home construction. He said the focus on upkeep of current facilities is "imperative." Funding for renovations, expansions and demolition at properties will be needed. Parker argued discontinuing the use of buildings not needed and updating current facilities will save the district a lot of money over time.
"With all the people coming in, I think that should be one of our top priorities," District 7 board representative Rev. Kelly Spann Jr. said.
Other board members agreed that working with county government on establishing impact fees on new construction would be a good idea.
"It’s quite uncommon for a county not to have impact fees in some shape or form on new construction," Ramsey said. "So, we’re not asking for anything that’s not completely typical and normal in most places."
While suggestions of impact fees and school boundary changes consumed most of the presentation and conversation, Dr. Parker argued the school board would still need to identify a source to fund the construction of new schools.
"Impact fees will not build you new schools, but they will certainly help with renovations and maintenance of your current schools," he said.
The suggestion there – to partner with Berkeley County on a 1 percent sales tax increase.
“In a high growth area, these are pretty tough decisions to make. …Meeting the challenges of growth is a tremendous challenge, and I commend the board in facing up to the challenge and making tough decisions,” Parker said.
Dr. Ingram echoed Parker’s compliments to the board after the meeting.
"This board has shown it’s invested in making the best decisions for our children and staff. While these aren’t fun things to discuss, they’ve made sure to have all the research completed, available and updated regularly so that they can make informed decisions. I, for one, am thankful for that,” Dr. Ingram said.
Community members and school stakeholders are encouraged to keep an eye out for upcoming community discussion dates. BCSD board members say community attendance and feedback at those meetings will be paramount.
January 17: This Devon Forest meeting is specific to those living in the Carnes Crossroads area of Berkeley County with children on the elementary school level. The meeting will begin at 6 p.m.