What do we want to accomplish on Lady’s Island with proposed elementary school rezoning?

in Voices by

By Jim Hicks

In an effort to prepare Beaufort County public schools for future growth, the school board and the Beaufort County School District have recently made some tough calls such as returning the fifth grades back to the elementary schools and building new schools in southern Beaufort County.

Now they are in the process of considering solutions to other challenges. One of the actions being considered is revising school attendance zones in an effort to better balance the student population of all of the public schools with their capacity. In the Lady’s Island community, at this point in the process, it would appear that Lady’s Island Middle School and Beaufort High School attendance zones will remain as presently established.

There is a proposal, called Plan X, to significantly change the attendance zones for Coosa Elementary School and Lady’s Island Elementary School and this proposal will be presented to the community for comment on Tuesday, February 25 at 6 p.m. at Beaufort High School. The school district has posted the details and maps of the proposed zoning on its website. This change in Lady’s Island attendance zones has the potential to affect not only which school a child attends and the travel time necessary to reach the school, but it can also affect future growth patterns, real estate values and the traffic load on island roads.

The following is the basic nature of the proposed changes.

Present elementary school attendance zones. Draw a line on the southern side of Newpoint on Sams Point Road, across the island, and in the current school year (2014) all children of elementary school age in Pre-K through fourth grade residing in homes north of the line will attend Coosa Elementary School. Those children residing south of the Newpoint line will attend Lady’s Island Elementary School.

Proposed new elementary school attendance zones. The proposed new attendance zone (Plan X) includes plans for the return of the fifth graders and would move the elementary school attendance dividing line for Lady’s Island from Newpoint to the intersection of Brickyard Point Road and Sams Point Road then go down Sams Point Road to the end of the island, placing all homes on the east side of Sams Point (Ashdale, Nickles Place, Magnolia Court, Coosaw Island, Judge Island, Spanish Moss, Christine Place)  in the Lady’s Island Elementary School attendance zone, plus those north of Brickyard Point Road — Quail Run, Country Club Bluff — stopping just before Waterford Apartments. On Sams Point Road, this will place the Newpoint and Bluff Farm communities in the Lady’s Island Elementary School attendance zone instead of Coosa Elementary School where they are presently assigned.

When evaluating the merits of the proposed new attendance zone (Plan X) the following should be considered.

• Property has been purchased in the Springfield Road area by the school district for possible construction of the next elementary school. However, there are no funds earmarked for construction of a new school.

• Lady’s Island Elementary is presently operating at 59 percent of facility capacity; Coosa Elementary is at 92 percent of capacity.  The two schools both enjoy excellent reputations but are very different in the respect that:

A: Almost all of the students attending Coosa Elementary reside in their basic attendance zone since, being near its capacity, choice transfers from other attendance zones are not allowed.

B: Lady’s Island Elementary, with its arts infused curriculum, is a school of choice and as a general rule over 30 percent of its student population comes from outside their attendance zone.

• The capacity of Coosa Elementary will be increased for school year 2014-15 to absorb the return of the fifth graders. In 2009, to reduce the overcrowding in Coosa Elementary, the fifth grades of both Lady’s Island and Coosa elementary were transferred to Lady’s Island Middle School. In 2014, the fifth grades will return to both Lady’s Island Elementary and Coosa Elementary, increasing the number of students attending both schools.  However, additional capacity is scheduled to be added to Coosa in the form of modular classrooms to absorb the additional fifth grade students.

Accordingly, Lady’s Island Elementary will increase the percentage of use for its school and Coosa Elementary, with its increased capacity, should remain at less than maximum capacity but still in the 90 percent range until significant residential growth occurs.

• Residential growth will increase on Lady’s Island. In the present attendance zone for Lady’s Island Elementary, there are a number of approved residential developments with a great deal (over 500 new homes) of remaining undeveloped capacity. For example, Celadon with 80 homes; Tradewinds Plantation, 80 homes; Cane Island Retreat, 265 homes; and the Village (a new planned unit development, or PUD, on Sams Point Road presently in the submitting process) with 114 homes.

At the present time in the Coosa Elementary School zone there are three existing major planned unit developments with an unfulfilled capacity of over 700 homes — Coosaw Point, 300 homes; Greenheath, 300 homes; and Sommerset Point, 100 homes — all of which would remain in the proposed new attendance zone.

• The proposed new attendance zones would deny some families living within one mile of Coosa Elementary (Magnolia Court, Country Club Bluff and Quail Run) the privilege of attending the school and would require that they travel more than five miles to Lady’s Island Elementary. Although the parents in these zones could apply for a choice transfer to Coosa, if space existed, a question of fairness does arise.

• There is a trend of a decreasing student population on Lady’s Island. In spite of significant growth on Lady’s Island in the last 10 years, there has been an 18 percent drop in overall student population (641 students).

Recognizing that there are a number of factors to be considered when changing school attendance zones and a desire to execute a “one time” countywide reconfiguration of zones, there would appear to be a good number of questions that need to be answered before a final decision on the matter.

The most basic question seems to be to determine if a modification of the existing elementary school zoning on Lady’s Island is really necessary and a matter of good planning at this time or should further action be held in abeyance until the questions of both residential and student population growth are a bit clearer. Until those questions are resolved, it is difficult to support the proposed Plan X rezoning of attendance zones on Lady’s Island.  This rezoning involves more than just parents of school age children in that it will affect the entire community.

Please make plans to attend the February 25 meeting at the Beaufort High School and share your thoughts on the matter.

Jim Hicks is the editor of the newsletter for the Lady’s Island Business Professional Association and former Lady’s Island Planning Commission Representative.