CLOVER -- Plans for Clover Junior High School, a critical piece in the argument against building a second high school in the Clover School District, could be changing.
District officials and board of trustees members on Friday discussed a major alteration to long-term planning involving middle and high school students. Nothing was finalized, but the workshop discussion included talk about sending middle school students to Clover Junior High next year instead of Clover Middle School, which also could reduce the number of students able to attend Clover High School.
"We made no decisions today," said Superintendent Dr. Marc Sosne. "We only talked about options."
In February, district leaders decided to keep Clover a one high school district with plans to expand the high school by using the junior high. That plan, met with resistance by advocates to build a Lake Wylie-area high school, would increase the high school capacity from its current 2,000 to about 2,800.
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However, after four community meetings held in late September, Sosne met with about 20 parents for three hours Oct. 7 on the issue of keeping middle school students in Clover at Clover Middle School once the new middle school on S.C. 557 opens next year. The parents, many of whom say they worked to pass the $58.5 million bond referendum in 2006, were told at that time that middle school students in Clover would attend the junior high school, Sosne said.
"I helped with that bond referendum too, and we did say that," said board member Windy Bartee on Friday.
But putting middle school students at the current junior high could cause problems for the high school. At the public meetings in September, Sosne said a new high school would be built, likely within 10 years. By adding the junior high to the high school footprint, capacity would reach 2,800 and the district would begin planning for a second high school when enrollment reaches 2,300.
Without the junior high school, capacity is only 2,000. Current high school enrollment is 1,860 students, within the 500-student margin when Sosne said he would begin plans for a second high school in the original plan.
No vote was taken during the workshop Friday. A decision could come Monday at the next board meeting, or within the next couple of months. However, some board members did express a desire to change the original plans and send middle school students to the junior high school as promised in 2006.
"I believe this school board made a commitment to people," said Joe Gordon, who read directly from public information provided in 2006. "If we don't live up to that, not only will we not pass this bond, we won't pass the next one either."
The board hopes to pass a bond referendum in the spring that could be close to $60 million, which would include purchasing land for a high school and elementary school near Lake Wylie, and improvements to or expansion of the high school, junior high and Clover Middle School. Given the current economy, passing the bond would be difficult enough without hard feelings from broken promises on the last bond, some board members said.
"I'm really seeing the chances as slim to none of passing a referendum," said Kathy Cantrell, looking at the 2006 bond information. "As I see this in writing, I think we need to stick to it."
Changes in school funding, though, unleveled the playing field when South Carolina passed Act 388, said chairman Steve Brown. That act eliminated funding from property tax in favor of sales tax, and now the money needed to fund key projects is not there, he said. The board could commit to sending students to the junior high for three years, Brown said, but there would be the possibility of sending them back to Clover Middle School if construction projects could not be funded.
The issue of where to send 578 middle school students, by itself, is admittedly political.
"Functionality isn't really the issue at this point," Sosne said. "Either option or a combination of options we will make work, and we'll do more than just get by."
Students will receive the same education in either building, he said. The issue could come down to appeasing 20 to 100 parents, who the district says could swing a referendum vote in either direction. Those votes will be important because of the tumultuous economy and the controversy in Lake Wylie surrounding the high school decision.
"Community support is absolutely essential," Sosne said. "There are a whole bunch of people up in Lake Wylie who don't agree with that decision. I don't know how big of a group that is."
Without a sense that the bond will pass, district leaders will be forced to figure out another way to meet enrollment demands.
"If we don't feel confident in it passing, I'm not sure I want to pursue it because I sure don't want it to fail," Sosne said.
Back on the table?
Despite a possibility that would place Clover High School less than 200 students below its capacity without its plan for expansion, Sosne said moving forward now on a second high school is not feasible.
"Until we know where that money's coming from, I can't recommend it," he said.
Gordon, however, brought up the issue Friday revisiting the February decision made, at least in part, with the idea of using the junior high school.
"I am not in favor of a mega high school," Gordon said. "I believe, if you can do it financially, we should start planning for another school."
Leaders discussed everything from a school with floating teachers to bumping up the number of students per classroom.
"It might not be what we want to do, but what we have to do," said board member Bob Magee.
Still, a new high school for 1,800 students in York is being built with a price tag of $95 million, Sosne said. Adding $100 million for a new high school, plus the $2 million annual operating costs, is not viable, he said.
Instead, the district either should remain with its original plan or send middle school students to the junior high school and wait for help from the bond. Banking on the bond, Sosne would then hope to use the junior high as planned in high school expansion once a new Clover-area middle school opens in 2011.
District leaders stress the final decision will be with students' best interest in mind. "It's not the bricks and the mortar that makes the difference in the education of children," Sosne said.