MYRTLE BEACH — A Carolina Forest site committee working to ease overcrowding at Ocean Bay Middle School revised its original attendance line recommendation Tuesday so students in most of the area’s neighborhoods still can attend the school.
The new recommendation would send students who live west of U.S. 501 and those who live in the Waterford neighborhood and north of Gardner Lacy Road to Black Water Middle School.
This was the committee’s third meeting after approving a plan Sept. 10 that would have shifted most children who attend Carolina Forest Elementary School to Black Water Middle, with the exception of those who live in the Avalon neighborhood.
Some parents protested that the group only had one option and that there was no representation from the elementary school at that meeting.
Horry County Schools officials offered five options for consideration Tuesday, including the original plan, which district officials had felt was the best, said Joe Burch, HCS planner. The committee chose the fourth option, which Burch said did not vary much from the first except that it leaves the areas around Carolina Forest Boulevard intact and instead shifts the students in the Burcale Road, Arrowhead and Burning Ridge areas, along with those in Waterford and north of Gardner Lacy Road.
Burch said the district had avoided the new plan because the distance from those areas to Black Water Middle is farther than from the Carolina Forest Boulevard neighborhoods. School board Chairman Joe DeFeo, one of four board members in attendance, said he had driven the route several times, and the time factor differed only a few minutes in traveling to Black Water from either area.
Traffic on U.S. 501 was one of the reasons Carolina Forest parents gave for not wanting to shift to Black Water, however, Burch said the highway traffic is going to be as much of an issue for students in the other areas as it was for those in Carolina Forest.
Kraig Ankiewicz, the representative for Carolina Forest Elementary, said he was not happy with any of the options.
“Carolina Forest parents don’t want to go outside Carolina Forest,” he said.
Ankiewicz had met with a Carolina Forest parents group called Parents Against the Realigning of Carolina Forest Elementary School. He presented some ideas that included suggestions for different grade shifts and bringing in portables for the youngest students, but ultimately, they wanted another middle school built in Carolina Forest.
DeFeo said he did not want to split up neighborhoods, but these decisions affect people in other areas who are just as important as those who live in Carolina Forest. He said at present there is not enough money to build another school or to do more additions in Carolina Forest, although that could be revisited down the road.
“There’s only so much money to go around,” DeFeo said, “and when you consider we have schools with empty classrooms, I’d be hard-pressed to vote to raise taxes especially when there are other options.”
Ankiewicz said he was sure many Carolina Forest families would be happy to pay more taxes in order to keep their children in their area. DeFeo said that unlike the county, the school board cannot create specific tax areas.
Burch presented other scenarios that would have helped Carolina Forest, but they also would have added additional – and possibly more expensive – challenges in other attendance areas.
One scenario moved River Oaks Elementary School students into the Myrtle Beach attendance area, which would create overcrowding concerns for Myrtle Beach High School and Myrtle Beach Middle School. Other scenarios moved River Oaks to the Socastee attendance area, or students in the Burcale Road area to the Socastee cluster, but either way, there would be problems that would then affect Socastee.
“This gets real complicated because the impacts are so broad,” Burch said.
The district has been examining facilities for about two years seeking to ease overcrowding in some schools by utilizing available space in others. Ocean Bay Middle is bursting at the seams with students and has no logical room for expansion, officials say, while Black Water has room to spare.
Site committees from Loris, Conway and North Myrtle Beach also have considered changes for their attendance areas, and the change for Carolina Forest is closely linked with that of Conway, which would pull more of Black Water’s students to Whittemore Park Middle School and leave more available space.
Even with the site committee’s vote, nothing is written in stone yet. All four site committee recommendations will go to a district-wide committee, which will make final recommendations to the school board. The board, however, is under no obligation to approve any recommendation it is given.
A board-approved plan has been intended to take effect in the 2014-15 school year, but officials said implementation would have to be delayed if nothing was decided by January. Some members of the site committee asked about the time frame for a final decision, saying they did not want to hold up the process.
“We’ve been waiting on this committee, and we’re ready to roll,” said HCS Superintendent Cindy Elsberry, who said the district-wide group can meet and go within the next month to the board, where decisions can be made quickly.
Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_VickiGrooms.