Board ponders high school options

Rock Hill probably will need a fourth high school in 2012, but will it be a conventional high school with vast acreage and offerings or a downtown magnet school with special programs?

Projections show the district high schools' average enrollment will be beyond capacity in 2012.

School board chairman Bob Norwood on Monday posed a few future high school options, including a new conventional high school in the fast-growing northern part of the district and a magnet or other alternative high school.

"We might not be able to afford a conventional high school," said board member Jason Silverman. "We will not have the resources we had in previous discussions."

He referred to the new Property Tax Relief Law, which replaces school operating taxes on owner-occupied residences with a statewide 1-cent sales tax to be disseminated by the state beginning next year.

"If we can find a piece of property in the north, we need to purchase it whether we know when we will build it or not," said board member Walter Brown.

"A non-conventional high school would delay building of a fifth high school," Brown said. "Operating a conventional high school requires major operating expenditures. It requires band directors, coaches and other things we would not need with another kind of school."

School officials have been investigating prospects for an alternative high school for at least a year, but Monday's board meeting set the stage for more specific future discussions. They are seeking feedback from the community.

Rock Hill, York County, Winthrop University and York Technical College officials all support cooperation on a centralized high school downtown, perhaps in the new Textile Corridor, Norwood said.

Winthrop and York Tech already offer some classes for dual college and high school credit, and Winthrop is collaborating with the school district on a new elementary magnet school for science and technology that will begin at Sunset Park next month.

A number of factors are influencing consideration of a non-conventional high school.

Rock Hill superintendent Lynn Moody cited advocacy of more choice in public schools by new State Schools Superintendent Jim Rex. And board member Anne Reid pointed to the difficulty in having sufficient enrollment to house some special programs such as International Baccalaureate at three different high schools.

Also, Rock Hill High is already operating beyond capacity with more than 2,100 students. School officials plan to tweak the high school's boundaries in coming months as they adjust attendance lines for Dutchman Creek Middle and Holly Hill Elementary schools, both scheduled to open in 2008.

Most students moved from Rock Hill High probably will attend South Pointe High, expected to open in the coming school year with 1,362 students. It will be the first year that 3-year-old South Pointe will accommodate grades nine through 12. South Pointe is not expected to be beyond capacity until 2015, but a boundary shift could change that.

Northwestern, with an anticipated enrollment of 1,660 students in the coming school year, is projected to be beyond enrollment capacity in 2013.

Those projections do not include a student influx expected when the former Celanese plant is converted for multi-use, including 1,000 residences at first and a potential of 1,000 more, explained John Hair, district associate superintendent for business and finance.

Projections also do not include plans for Newland Communities in the southeastern part of the district. About 2,700 housing units are anticipated there.

Board member Mildred Douglas suggested future planning should include the district's philosophy of demographic balance in each of the schools. And Jim Vining suggested collaborating with other York County school districts and districts around the state concerning an alternative or magnet high school.

"This is something we will reserve for a lengthy discussion later," Norwood said.