Horry County school board expected to make decision on Carolina Forest issue Monday night

vgrooms@thesunnews.comJanuary 12, 2014 

  • If you go

    What | Horry County Board of Education meeting

    When | 6 p.m. Monday

    Where | Horry County Schools District Office, 335 Four Mile Road, Conway

Months of debate and angst over how to ease overcrowding in Carolina Forest schools is expected to end with some type of decision from the Horry County school board Monday night.

Two options are on the meeting agenda – the K-6 option and Option 1 – but the district has added a recommendation asking that the board reject both of those plans and direct administration to develop a plan as soon as possible to aid not only Carolina Forest, but also other attendance areas where enrollment projections exceed 100 percent of capacity by 2018-19.

Updated district forecasts show 13 schools reaching or exceeding capacity in the next 10 years, including Carolina Forest’s Ocean Bay Middle School, which by next year is expected to have capacity utilization at 122 percent.

Some board members have already expressed support for scrapping the two options. The K-6 option would move the sixth grade from Ocean Bay Middle to River Oaks, Carolina Forest and Ocean Bay elementary schools. Option 1 – the district’s original recommendation – would send students from west of U.S. 501 up to S.C. 31, Carolina Forest Boulevard up to and including Walkers Woods and Sawgrass, and Myrtle Beach National and Waterford Plantation to Black Water Middle School.

“I have looked at the district recommendation, and that is the one I would vote for now, to reject the K-6 option and the option 1 transfer of students, and have [the district] come back with recommendations for a new school for Carolina Forest and for other areas that are going to be overcrowded in the next five years,” said board Chairman Joe DeFeo.

Board members Harvey Eisner and John Poston said it’s wise to wait and that the window has been missed for being able to implement anything properly for the 2014-15 school year.

“I think it’s too late,” Eisner said, “and based upon new enrollment figures for the next five years, we’re going to be back where we are today. … To do something now would be silly, then in three to five years have to realign again.”

Parents Against the Realigning of Carolina Forest Elementary School came out early in opposing Option 1, with parents saying Black Water Middle was too far from their neighborhoods around Carolina Forest Boulevard and that the route to school along U.S. 501 was too dangerous. Other plans, including one to realign as far as the Burcale Road area, also met opposition and were taken off the table.

More Carolina Forest parents have become embroiled in the issue in the last few days, especially those with children at River Oaks and Ocean Bay elementary schools. The K-6 Option – which surfaced late in November – would add more students to their schools, raising concerns that the overcrowding problem would just be shifted to them and about whether their children would suffer if an entire grade level is shifted back to the elementary schools.

“Parents don’t know what’s going [on],” said Chairman Lorraine Mallon at the Carolina Forest Advisory Board meeting Thursday. “They want to know what that sixth grade will look like and what will be lost.”

District officials have had a short amount of time to look at the grade shift from all angles to see what the K-6 option would involve. Some of their findings are:

• Six additional staff positions would be needed, as well as more teachers in certain areas – such as sixth-grade honors and accelerated English and math – to provide the same offerings at three elementary schools rather than one middle school.

• Band, chorus, orchestra, yearbook production, dance, Read 180, theater and keyboarding would not be offered to those sixth-graders.

• Portables would be needed for accelerated, special education and gifted classes.

• There would be an increase in costs, estimated at up to $741,207 for transportation, $29,222 for health services and $117, 959 for food services.

The parents group from Carolina Forest Elementary – which already had presented a petition to the board against Option 1 – started another petition, while Ocean Bay Elementary parents began a petition of their own against the K-6 option. Colleen Sharp-Mills with the Carolina Forest Elementary group, has reached out to join all concerned parents in opposing both options in favor of finding the best solution for their children.

“I think that a new middle school would help,” she said. “The overcrowding needs to be eliminated.”

If no action is taken for next fall, students at Ocean Bay Middle still will be left in an overcrowded situation, but DeFeo said portables or other types of help will be made available to the school in the interim.

“I believe waiting this long was right for the board because we needed to have final information on future projections and attendance,” he said. “What some didn’t realize is that getting the information takes time, and for me, it was worth the wait.”

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

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