Clover school board rethinks plans for grades 6 through 8

CLOVER -- The Clover school board might reconsider its plans to change the district's grade structure on Monday, when it decides the future of Clover Middle School.

In September, the board presented a plan that eliminated the junior high level. According to the proposal, Clover Middle School would house half of the district's sixth- through eighth-graders next fall and the other half would attend a new middle school in Lake Wylie. Under the plan, the Clover Junior High site would be used to expand the high school and for other programs.

The plan, however, wasn't embraced by many parents.

Clover mom Deanne Kelly called the middle school a "second-rate facility."

"Structurally, from the size of the classrooms to the cafeteria, the school is simply too small," Kelly said. "Academically, the facility lacks the appropriate science labs, computer labs and library to prepare seventh- and eighth-graders for high school."

Superintendent Marc Sosne met with about 20 parents last week who shared similar concerns. Many argued the district pulled a "bait and switch," referring to a promise by district leaders during the 2006 bond referendum that they would use the junior high site for the middle school.

Sosne called it a "communications issue" that happened in the wake of changing conditions.

The district was dealt a major financial blow when the state passed Act 388, which eliminates residential property taxes to fund school operations in exchange for an extra penny on the dollar sales tax.

"That new tax structure changed a lot of our plans," Sosne said. "And then you add to it the economic crisis we're seeing now, and it's a domino effect. The board makes the very best decision for the district based on these factors."

The board had a three-hour work session last week, when some members expressed a desire to 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 the public information provided in 2006. "If we don't live up to that, not only will we not pass (a spring) bond, we won't pass the next one, either."

The district is planning a bond referendum in the spring that would include a new middle school and land for a high school and elementary school near Lake Wylie, as well as several school improvements.

Given the tough 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 board member Kathy Cantrell, looking at the 2006 bond information. "As I see this in writing, I think we need to stick to it."

In February, district leaders decided to keep Clover a one-high school district, with plans to expand Clover High School by using the junior high site.

That plan -- met with resistance by advocates who want to build a Lake Wylie-area high school -- would increase the student capacity from its current 2,000 to about 2,800.

"If we use the junior high for another three years, yes, it slows down our conversion plan for the high school," Sosne said. "But if we pass another bond referendum and build a new middle school by August, 2011, we could make the high school situation work for another three years."