Horry County school board scraps Carolina Forest options, will look at new schools

vgrooms@thesunnews.comJanuary 13, 2014 

— More new schools may be coming to the county as the Horry County school board on Monday scrapped two unpopular plans to combat overcrowding in the Carolina Forest attendance area in favor of revisiting the short-term capital plan for the entire district.

The board had considered two plans to ease overcrowding at Ocean Bay Middle School – a K-6 option that would have moved the sixth grade at Ocean Bay Middle to River Oaks, Carolina Forest and Ocean Bay elementary schools, and the district’s original recommendation that would have shifted most students who attend Carolina Forest Elementary School to Black Water Middle School.

The district’s latest enrollment numbers, however, showed growth not only in Carolina Forest, but in other areas of the district, with at least nine schools reaching capacity within the next five years. Passing either of the Carolina Forest options only would have shifted the overcrowding issue from Ocean Bay Middle to several other schools, board members said.

Instead, the board unanimously approved a recommendation from Horry County Schools Superintendent Cindy Elsberry to allow the administration to develop a plan as soon as possible to aid Carolina Forest and all the attendance areas where enrollment projections will exceed 100 percent of capacity by 2018-19, and for the board to revisit its $314 million, short-term capital plan.

“With almost 900 more students per year, it is ill-advised to implement a realignment plan in Carolina Forest or anywhere else based on the 2013-14 data,” Elsberry said.

Board Chairman Joe DeFeo said he agreed with the recommendation, and that the district could probably add three more schools over the next five years. He said he would like to see a new school in Carolina Forest in the next two to three years.

Monday’s vote does not affect realignment plans that the board approved last fall for the Loris and North Myrtle Beach attendance areas.

DeFeo said the district can get funds for the new schools in many different ways, and John Gardner, HCS executive director for finance, said with the district’s favorable credit rating, it can borrow more than $150 million without going to a public bond referendum. The cost of a new middle school is around $30 million.

“We just need to bite the bullet and do what we need to do, or we’ll be handing someone else a lot of problems [in the future],” DeFeo said.

Carolina Forest parents attended the board meeting as they have over the months since realignment talks began. Each option had its proponents, and, as one parent told the board, the community was being torn apart, but the two sides came together Monday with a petition opposing both options.

Tracy Brown, a parent of two River Oaks students, spoke to the board about the dissention the realignment issue caused, saying she apologized to Black Water Middle School families for things that were said about the school during the debate, and that parents needed to think “not how [a decision] affects my child, but how it affects every child.”

“We can disagree and still be kind,” she said. ”I am here to ask our community and the board to remember we are Horry County.”

Also Monday, the board unanimously approved a realignment plan for the Conway attendance area, which borders Carolina Forest.

The plan will send all of South Conway, Homewood and Pee Dee elementary school students to Whittemore Park Middle School and on to Conway High School, and will send all of Conway and Kingston elementary school students to Conway Middle School and Conway High School.

The realignment includes moving all of U.S. 701 South to the Conway attendance area from the Carolina Forest attendance area and reverses a split that was made in the late 1990s when Carolina Forest High School opened.

The move will provide a more natural boundary for the Conway cluster, ease overcrowding at Conway Middle School and make use of available space at other schools.

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

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