LAKE WYLIE -- Lake Wylie leaders want to support the Clover school system. They're just having a hard time supporting its plan not to build a high school in Lake Wylie.
"This is not an issue of Clover vs. Lake Wylie," said Susan Bromfield, president of the Lake Wylie Chamber of Commerce. "This is an issue of serving students in a community."
The chamber sent a letter earlier this month to Clover School District Superintendent Dr. Marc Sosne and local newspapers stating disappointment in the district board of trustees' decision to remain a one high school district. The letter cited reasons for contructing a second high school rather than expanding the existing one, including shorter commutes for Lake Wylie students, increased student opportunity with two campuses and promises made by former district staff.
"When it's a small, nurturing environment, people learn well," Bromfield said. "They're better behaved. They have a better educational experience."
Neither the Lake Wylie residents nor the school board wants a contentious issue.
"It concerns us very much that the Lake Wylie Chamber disagrees with our position," Sosne said. "We are certainly going to try to talk about options and see what possibilities and areas of compromise exist. We certainly don't want to alienate a group of merchants in our community who we rely on for support."
Yet chamber leaders aren't the only ones opposed to the current plan. Byan Armstrong, president of the Crowders Creek PTA, said although he can't speak on behalf of the 1,200 members of his group, he personally is concerned about one large campus.
"I would like to see a high school out here," said Bryan Armstrong, parent of two students at Crowders Creek Elementary School. "It's where all the growth is. It's what the community needs."
Another Lake Wylie resident and parent, Russell Kaye, said he wants a Lake Wylie high school because a closer school is more convenient for students and parents.
"I'd like to have it here," Kaye said. "It just makes sense. This is where people are moving in."
Armstrong says opinions vary.
"I've heard both sides," he said. "I've talked to people who feel like the big campus actually provides more services for the kids and the whole issue of how are the two schools going to be equitable."
School board member Kathy Cantrell, a Lake Wylie resident and director of the Clover Chamber of Commerce, said she's disappointed with the Lake Wylie Chamber's stand.
While the school board members respect the chamber members and are friends with many, they disagree on this issue, she said.
"We really believe in our actions in the decision to delay the building of a Lake Wylie high school for a number of years," Cantrell said. "We really do think that was in the best interest of the community."
Cantrell says a benefit of having one high school is that it serves as a unifying factor for the community.
"Not that competition isn't good, but my concern is it being a divisive issue in the community," she said. "I don't know that for a fact, but that's my feeling."
Lake Wylie residents point to the Fort Mill and Rock Hill school districts as examples for how multiple high schools can work without fracturing a community. What is more likely to fracture a community, some say, is distrust.
"They basically told us one thing two years ago on the school bond referendum, and now they're doing something completely different," Armstrong said. "What they decided to do is not what we voted for two years ago.
Bromfield agrees, saying they were told the next project would be building a Lake Wylie high school, not expanding the existing one.
"The whole thing with this is they were hosting focus groups, and they had committees talking about this before they did the last referendum," she said. "Nearly half the people on the (chamber) board worked on it and supported it based on what we were told, and we told other people."
Knowing what they know now, Lake Wylie may not have approved the last referendum so readily, Bromfield says.
"I think it would have impacted it," she said.
The biggest concern raised is that the school will be too big. Cantrell says, however, it is possible to break it up into smaller academies for different subjects such as arts, business, science and technology, similar to what Olympic High School in Steele Creek started in 2006-2007 school year.
Sosne offered two main reasons to go with one larger high school: it saves money and allows for more programs.
With Act 388, which eliminates the school tax on owner-occupied homes, coupled with rapid growth and an unpredictable economy, Sosne said, it's unwise to build a new high school at this point.
"We think it makes more sense for us to continue to grow Clover High School until we reach the student capacity of the buildings on that campus and be able to expand our offerings for our students there to benefit our taxpayers."
While Sosne understands arguments in favor of a second high school, such as the ability for more students to participate on sports teams, he says it's just not feasible or cost effective.
"We can continue to grow our programs, offer more academic and arts programs for our students at that location," he said.
While no official studies have been done, Sosne said the school district estimates opening a second high school would cost up to $2 million more a year to cover additional expenses.
However, Sosne says just because they're expanding the high school now doesn't mean there won't be a Lake Wylie high school and the district continues to look for land in Lake Wylie.
He said if current growth projections are accurate, that could happen in the next eight to 10 years. The district is adamant it doesn't want the school to exceed 2,800 students, so when it gets to about 2,400, the board will have to look at building a new school.
In the meantime, Sosne said he hopes differences with the chamber can be resolved.
"I don't want people to think that either the chamber of commerce or the school board are drawing a line in the sand or it's becoming adversarial,"Sosne said. "When you can have different opinions and discuss it openly, you almost always come out with something stronger and something better."