Horry districtwide school committee to continue studying attendance lines

vgrooms@thesunnews.comJanuary 19, 2013 

An Horry County Schools committee will consider possible attendance boundary shifts Tuesday night as members continue their quest to find the best ways to ease overcrowding in some schools and possibly shape the future of the district.

The group is made up of school board and community members, who are representing each of the district’s nine attendance areas but are taking a big-picture view of the problem. It began meeting last fall with a goal of reaching a recommendation for the school board, although the board will not be obligated to approve any plan.

Rick Maxey, HCS chief operations officer, said the district’s Office of Construction Management will offer some options to the group based on feedback from its December meeting. He said he expects more discussion on attendance boundaries now that members are beginning to understand all the aspects that must be considered.

“It’s an overwhelming topic when you think about it,” Maxey said, “but the last discussion was really rich, and a lot of ideas have taken traction.”

The group already has learned there are multiple aspects to facilities planning. Different types of capacity have to be considered, and schools are designed differently by grade level to accommodate the various ways lessons are delivered by age group. High schools prove to be the most complex to deal with because different programs are offered from school to school, which can blur campus boundaries and complicate the capacity formula.

Overcrowding has been an issue in several attendance areas and is hitting hardest at the middle school level. Space utilization is at more than 100 percent in six of the district’s 11 middle schools, with the highest at Ocean Bay and St. James at 127 percent; Aynor has reached 100 percent.

Six elementary schools also are over 100 percent, although Loris will be getting relief with a new building on its existing campus that should be ready by the fall. Carolina Forest-area schools had been on that list until this year, when the new River Oaks Elementary School opened.

Mark Mitchell, a committee member from St. James, said in his attendance area three of its five schools – Seaside and St. James elementary schools, in addition to St. James Middle – are overcrowded. He said the area’s borders include the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway, leaving little room for attendance lines to be moved except toward Socastee, where Forestbrook Middle School is already over capacity.

“We’re learning that we live in our areas, but others have different problems,” Mitchell said. “The solutions are not always easy.”

Mitchell said so far the group has reached a consensus on some parameters but not on any specifics. He would be very surprised if anything definitive was decided by the end of Tuesday’s meeting. He said everyone seems to agree that there is a real sense of community at the high school level, and that adjustments might be better received if they are made at other grade levels, but that’s only one example of something they are still discussing.

Once the group does settle on some scenarios, Maxey said those would go before site committees for the areas directly affected before anything is taken to the school board.

“I applaud the district for doing this to make sure [the process] is fair - we must look at the greater picture,” Mitchell said. “I think we’re all aware that when people make a housing decision, it’s based on access to schools, shopping … how close they are to dance and swimming. We could be affecting someone’s lifestyle.”

Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_VickiGrooms.

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