CLOVER — EDITORS NOTE: This is the third in a series of articles looking at the upcoming Clover School District bond referendum and focusing on one of five proposed construction projects.
A $10 million renovation of Clover Middle School to serve as a ninth-grade academy for Clover High School is a key growth management strategy voters will consider in the March 22 bond vote.
Superintendent Marc Sosne has said the academy, one of five proposed projects in the $67 million bond referendum, would allow the district to postpone the need for a second high school until after 2025. He also said the plan is more economical and would allow the community to remain unified under one high school.
The construction package totals $99 million, but the district plans a $32 million down payment to reduce the amount it would need to borrow and to avoid a property tax increase.
If the bond is approved, Clover Middle students would move to a new middle school on Barrett Road in August 2016. The current middle school building, next to the high school on S.C. 55, would be renovated for a ninth-grade academy. It would open in August 2017.
Rose Cummings, chairwoman of a bond steering committee, said in addition to managing enrollment growth, the ninth-grade academy plan meshes with the districts aim to give students the best education possible.
Helping kids transition into high school as smoothly as possible is very, very important, because in high school you have more responsibility, more accountability, she said. Educators have realized that that population of students needs specialized care.
A ninth-grade academy would not be new for Clover, Cummings said. Some form of a ninth-grade academy has existed for some time, and the program has been evolving.
Its just maturing to the point where we believe that a stand-alone ninth-grade academy is the right thing for Clover at this time, she said. Most schools in South Carolina have some type of ninth-grade academy.
Some parents and other residents of the school district have expressed concern about the plan, however, saying it would allow Clover High to expand to a capacity of 3,400 students.
The number scares me, the size, said Matt Cullen, the parent of three students in Clover schools who voiced his concern to the school board last month. Nobody has a problem with anything in the bond, except for the fact that its going to increase the size of the high school.
However, Cullen also said the plan might be successful.
Its a little bit risky, he said. I have some concerns about it, but Im not sure that it would be a complete failure.
District spokesman Mychal Frost said the 3,400 figure is the combined capacity of both buildings, not projected enrollment. He said the high school capacity would be 2,400 students and the ninth-grade capacity about 1,000.
The assertion has never been made from the district that there will be 3,400 students ever present in the school, he said.
Claims that Clover High would become the largest high school in the state under the plan also are wrong, Frost said. Wando High School in Mount Pleasant, with more than 3,600 students, is the largest in the state now.
If every single seat were filled, he said, we would still not be the largest high school in South Carolina.
The districts current ninth-grade enrollment is 561, Frost said, well below the 1,000-student capacity of the current middle school building. Present enrollment at Clover High is 1,998 students in grades nine to 12.
The district will add teachers, counselors and other staff members to support the student population, he said.
As student enrollment grows, Frost said, so does everything else.
Clover already has added one guidance counselor at the high school this year, Frost said, bringing the total to seven.
David Brantley of Lake Wylie is a semiretired insurance broker and grandfather to two graduates of Clover schools. He would prefer to see a second high school in Lake Wylie, rather than a larger Clover High.
They can make arguments all day long that there will be more opportunities because of the size, he said. But I think it will be just the opposite.
Groups like chorus, athletic teams and many competitive academic groups only accept a certain number of students; one high school means fewer spots on those groups or teams relative to the student population.
If youre limiting the number of students, Brantley said, there are a lot of students who never get an opportunity to develop that talent because when they try out, they werent an obvious star.
With one school, there are going to be a lot of really bright kids who are shy and unnoticed, who could have had an opportunity to develop their talents and arent going to get a chance.
Cummings, head of the bond steering committee, said other parents have a different perspective on that issue.
Many parents favor the bigger school because it places Clover High in AAAA standing, she said, while two separate high schools likely would be in the lower AA standing.
A lot of people want to make sure their children are coming out of a competitive environment because their child wants to play at a collegiate level, Cummings said.
As the school has grown, she said, it has been able to add opportunities.
We have added sports that werent available five or six years ago, she said. Sometimes for parents, it matters that there are lots of options.
Brantley argues larger schools have more problems with bullying and discipline.
Every study Ive ever seen indicates the smaller the school is, the more opportunity for the children, he said.
Fred Glickman of Lake Wylie doesnt have children in school, but he has mentored at Clover High through the River Hill Lions Club. He said many of the bond projects are very worthwhile.
He opposes, however, expanding the high school.
In terms of the quality of education, theres a high correlation between the size of the school and the quality of education thats delivered, he said. Bigger schools simply do not fare as well.
Cummings disagrees that the school would be too large, noting students would be at separate sites.
Its still a manageable number, she said. You have to use those facilities as flexible as you can.
The district is committed to providing appropriate class sizes and numerous opportunities, Cummings said.
Clover has a strong track record of academic success, and Cummings expects that to continue.
Everybody is faced with managing the number of students at the same time as maintaining the quality of education that our community demands, she said.
Cummings and Frost both said a second high school is in the districts future, but they say now is not the right time.
The districts objective is a world-class education at the most affordable rate to the taxpayers, Frost said. A second high school now is not fiscally responsible and does not improve the academic offerings we can have at Clover High School.
A second high school would cost at least $108 million on the low end, he said, more than the entire cost of the five planned construction projects. That figure is based on the cost of York Comprehensive High School, which opened in 2010.
Homeowners shouldnt expect higher property taxes if the $67 million bond is approved, Frost said. Bonds sold in 2006 to build Larne Elementary and Oakridge Middle are being paid off, so the districts debt is going down.
For example, Frost said, homeowners in 2007 paid $136 per $100,000 of property value; he said that would go down to $96 per $100,000 in 2014.
Homeowners likely would pay more property taxes for the construction of a second high school, he said.
The $10 million in planned renovations for the ninth-grade school at Clover Middle would include upfitting science labs, improving the school entrance and a general face-lift of the interior of the building, Frost said. Details of the renovation are still being determined, but it might include improved lighting and flooring to make it more on par with what is next door at the high school.
Some parents are concerned the ninth-grade students would not have access to the Applied Technology Center programs next to the high school, he said, because of the distance between the two campuses.
The proposal would bring in pieces of those programs to the ninth-grade campus, Frost said, so that becomes a feeder program for the technology center.
Building a new high school would require sufficient land, infrastructure and traffic access from major roadways, he said. The district owns 172 acres on Daimler Road, off S.C. 274, which is available when the time is right for a future school. That could include a high school, middle school, elementary school or some combination.
Clover places a high value on its public education, Cummings said.
We put value on the educational experiences of our kids by living where we live, she said. Im really proud that weve done a good job with our planning and our use of resources.
This bond is just taking it to the next step.
Jennifer Becknell • 803-329-4077