Lake Wylie group opposes Clover school bond plans

03/13/2014 11:03 PM

03/13/2014 11:04 PM

A group of about 15 Lake Wylie residents say they are working to defeat Clover’s school bond referendum, primarily because they say it would make Clover High School too big.

“This referendum is setting the table for Clover High School to become a 3,400-student mega high school,” said Margaret Blackwell, chairwoman of the Clover School Bond Referendum Committee. “Too many students get lost and it’s hard to manage.”

Blackwell, a former educator whose career of 38 years included teaching high school math and working as a high school principal and administrator in Texas, said the group has been meeting for about six weeks.

Residents of the Clover school district, which includes Lake Wylie, will vote March 22 on the $67 million bond referendum, which would help pay for five construction projects. The total estimated cost of the projects is $99 million, but the district plans to make a $32 million down payment.

The proposal calls for spending $40 million to build a new middle school on Barrett Road in Clover and $10 million to renovate Clover Middle School, converting it into a ninth-grade academy for Clover High.

Blackwell said high schools that exceed what she says is the ideal capacity of 1,800 students face a lot of problems.

“Deterioration of quality education can be expected,” she said, “because the large high schools function like bureaucracies, while smaller schools function like communities.”

Clover schools spokesman Mychal Frost said there are more than 1,900 students at Clover High, which still delivers high quality education.

“The ideal size of a high school is relative to the size of the community and maintaining the high level of education it delivers,” he said.

Capacity is based on how many people can be in the building, Frost said.

“We do our best to build new schools before we hit that point,” he said.

Clover Superintendent Marc Sosne said vital components for a successful school include community and parent support and how the school is managed.

“We’d be foolish to make a drastic change to the school,” he said, pointing to rising standardized test scores, a falling drop-out rate, and the school being named a finalist for a Palmetto’s Finest award by the S.C. Association of School Administrators.

Clover High has more extracurricular activities and sports, Sosne said, and has hired more guidance counselors, social workers and teachers.

When the planned ninth-grade academy would open in 2017, he said, Clover High’s enrollment, with just 10th through 12th graders attending, would be about 1,600 – “about 400 less than are there now.”

“We don’t think it’s in anyone’s best interest to fund a second high school at this time,” Sosne said. “We believe it’s in the students’ best interest and taxpayers’ not to build a new, expensive high school until we max out of the building we’re in.”

Blackwell said large schools are prone to more drug issues, truancy, gang activity, lower attendance and higher drop-out rates.

“All manners of studies on high school size say bigger is not better,” said Lake Wylie resident Don Long, another member of the anti-bond group. “There are less opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities. It produces anonymity.

“It’s not a desirable environment, and I can’t imagine why we’re moving in that direction.”

As Clover High’s enrollment has grown, Frost said, so has academic performance, while discipline issues have dropped.

“We’re doing very well,” he said.

Moving money

Group members also challenge the ninth-grade academy proposal, and question how some of the bond money would be spent.

“Clover already has a very effective ninth-grade academy,” Blackwell said.

The current ninth-grade academy is two hallways within Clover High School, Frost said.

“Putting it in a stand-alone facility allows all ninth-grade students to grow together,” he said.

Group members say renovating Clover Middle School would cost less than building a new middle school.

“Clover Middle School is a good facility, just not on par with Oakridge” Middle School, Blackwell said. “Oakridge is newer. Clover Middle still has capacity for over 300 students, so why are we spending $40 million of taxpayer money to make the two schools look alike?”

Building a new middle school would provide equal opportunities across the district, Frost said. “Renovating Clover Middle would not reach that objective.”

The $32 million the district proposes as a down payment would be better spent paying to build the proposed $25 million elementary school on Oakridge Road, Blackwell said, easing enrollment at Crowders Creek Elementary, which has more than 1,000 students.

“We need that relief school immediately,” she said.

Leftover money could be used to renovate Clover Middle School, Blackwell said, and bring it up to par with Oakridge Middle.

Second high school

Jamie Henrickson, the mother of two elementary school-age students, said the plan would be “like slapping a Band-Aid on the problem” of growing high school enrollment, since school officials have acknowledged a second high school might be needed in 10 years.

“Why spend a huge amount money, when we’ll still be paying for this bond, and not build a high school now?” she asked. “Why put it off?”

Fort Mill and Rock Hill have built second and third high schools so they aren’t so large, she said.

It’s not the time for a second high school, Frost said, and having two high schools would divide resources and opportunities for students.

“To expect ... opportunities to be the same with half the number of people doesn’t make sense,” Frost said.

Dick Lewis, who has lived in Lake Wylie for 27 years, said he has no children or grandchildren attending Clover schools. The Lake Wylie area is growing faster than Clover, he said, so it needs its own high school.

“It doesn’t make sense to have a stand-alone school in Clover servicing both areas,” he said. “The highway system and demographics of growth show a lot of congestion going to a stand-alone high school in Clover, with a (Lake Wylie) population that is going to double in 10 to 15 years.”

The district should build a new high school on the 172 acres it owns on Daimler Boulevard near Allison Creek, Lewis said. There are no plans for that land now.

Tom Smith, a former York County Council member and a developer since 1988, supports the district’s bond plan. He said county and school officials have been working together on planning, and they know where growth is going.

In 20 years, he said, Lake Wylie’s center will shift from the area known as Three Points – where S.C. 49, S.C. 557 and S.C. 274 meet – to Five Points, near Bethelfields.

“Growth is going to follow the lake,” Smith said, and the schools’ proposal would buy time until a second school is needed

“Ten years is not a very long time,” he said. “If we’re just building a school for bricks and mortar in Lake Wylie, our taxes are going to go up, and the burden will fall on small business.”

Smith, who has four children in Clover schools, doesn’t think a large high school is a problem. “I have faith in the school district and staff, because they’re real people and part of the community,” he said. “I don’t buy into (the fear that) we’re going to lose that sense of community.”

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