After weeks of considering different attendance line plans, Berkeley County School Board members have officially settled on one option they think will temporarily solve school overcrowding and continued growth in the Cane Bay area.
The board voted Thursday to pass first reading of the plan titled Option C, which will affect about 687 students, according to district officials. All board members were in favor of the plan, except for Ann Conder who abstained from voting.
To ease the student population at Cane Bay High School, two possible plans suggested moving students, starting this fall, from Cane Bay High to Stratford High School.
“There is an overcrowding problem at all the Cane Bay schools,” said board member David Barrow.
To explain his point, he revealed Cane Bay High—which has property stipulations outlawing classroom trailers—has a current student count of 2,130, which is about 400 students over capacity.
“So we have to build there…which is not an option in the short term,” Barrow said.
However, at Stratford High, because of its building programs, the maximum capacity is 2,200 students, with only 1,750 enrolled.
“Those are the facts,” Barrow said, adding how the board is also aware that Stratford will likely also exceed capacity in four years, based on consultants’ data projections.
Barrow also explained how another idea, Option A, was cut from the district’s discussion because it would have split Sangaree in half, proposing students on the same street attend different high schools.
According to Board Chair Sally Wofford, the attendance line issue overall is a vital one that can’t be ignored; she explained each side of the issue has pros and cons.
“If we don’t address this, then people are going to say, ‘You put my kid in an overcrowded school, and there were seats at another school,’” she said.
Wofford told the crowd that throughout the process the board has welcomed community comments and will continue to do so—even considering any new options voiced.
“We want to hear about your individual children individually so that we can give that child care,” she said.
Wofford further stressed the board’s desire to keep students as stable as possible, despite the attendance line changes. She said her “heart is broken” over the chatter because she, too, moved schools as a teen.
“Moving attendance lines is the least desirable option for me because I have lived through it as a student,” Wofford said. “We don’t want this community to bounce from one high school back to another high school, and then back to a different one. That’s not what the board desires to do; we don’t want your children in overcrowded classrooms.”
The attendance line plan was not pieced together quickly or with little thoughts. Wofford said the discussion has been on district officials’ minds for more than a year, and the process and plans weren’t compiled in a “haphazard” or “last minute” way. That’s why the board has chosen, with the plan, to grandfather rising sophomores through seniors.
“Because we do care, and we don’t want to rip them out of their realm of study,” Conder said.
Conder was most vocal about the plan’s transportation glitches — the reason she said for her decision to abstain. The transportation issue is particularly for students, who will be living in newly-zoned Stratford areas, but wishing to stay at Cane Bay.
“Your children are just as near and dear to me as my own,” Conder said. “Our resources are limited; we can’t just produce them.”
According to Wofford, the district has struggled to secure bus drivers the last two years.
“There has to be a way to work the transportation piece out,” she said.
Superintendent Eddie Ingram agreed, pointing out a district shortage alone of about 35 drivers.
“It’s not a local problem; it’s not just a state problem; it’s a national problem,” he said.
Ingram was also vocal on the bus topic after Borrow suggested limiting transportation to one year only for students who opt out of Cane Bay.
“I would love to do everything that everybody wants,” Ingram said. “The reality is, that’s not always possible. It’s very hard to implement something…for one year and then pull it back.”
The attendance line guidelines suggest rising sophomores, juniors and seniors have the choice to stay at Cane Bay or transfer to Stratford. But any rising freshman in the modified zones who have “established athletic eligibility” for Cane Bay, don’t have to transfer, according to current guidelines.
The board also passed an amendment to update the guidelines regarding academic eligibility. She explained to the public that the board will entertain on a case-by-case basis any student at Cane Bay Middle, who is currently involved in a certain league or program—band, choir, or others—that has participated at Cane Bay High and has a connection to that school, to opt out of transferring to Stratford in ninth grade.
“It’s a very specific circumstance; it’s not a preference for athletics,” Wofford said.
The amendment covers only students currently enrolled in such programs, not students who might become involved at a later date.
“It’s not a wish list; it’s a program that a student is currently in,” Borrow said.
The attendance line topic first surfaced around February 2017, as the board started to compile its capital plan—and in the wake of learning about the overspending habits of former district CFO Brantley Thomas, who’s since been convicted of embezzling more than $1 million.
Wofford said limited district funding has only “worsened” and the board has sought to develop short-term and long-term plans regarding growth, overcrowding and facility needs.
“We haven’t had the money to make the capital improvements that were needed,” she said.
Before it can be implemented, the proposed attendance plan will require approval of a second and final reading. Another vote is scheduled for the board’s meeting on March 12 at Foxbank Elementary School. According board member Mac McQuillian, the board wishes to make a final decision quickly so parents aren’t “in limbo with uncertainty” and can plan accordingly.
In the meantime, district officials will continue to accept public feedback. Comments can be emailed to email@example.com .