Horry County School board delays decision on overcrowding solution

CAROLINA FOREST, SC (WMBF) - The Horry County School Board voted 11-0 Monday to take more time to make more options and formulate a long term plan to deal with overcrowding.

New research is forcing the Horry County school board to find a new solution to the overcrowding issue.

A whole new school could be built, but at this point, nothing will change for the upcoming school year. Chances are it will get worse for students dealing with overcrowding in the classroom, because research shows an extra 871 new students will enroll in the district this year.

"It's very important. It affects our children and many other parents' children," said concerned parent Greg Penn. He sat with other parents during the school board meeting Monday night to hear what they would decide about their children's education. "To take them away into away into a different school and a different setting, it will throw them off."

To his relief, the board decided in an 11 to 0 vote to reject the realignment and also to reject the K-6 option, which would have kept kids at an elementary school for an extra year.

"Even if we moved students to Blackwater, Ocean Bay Middle is projected to be overcrowded again in four to five years, so we wouldn't be solving any long-term problem," said Horry County School Board Chairman Joe Defeo.

Defeo and other board members want to find a long term solution because research shows the number of students projected to enroll next year equals the number of students that could fill a new school, so that's the route the board wants to go.

"With the money we have in the bank, we don't owe anyone any money, we don't borrow money to operate because we have our own funds, so the reality is there," Defeo said.

The school board believes they can borrow up to $150 million without having to ask for a public bond, and predicts each middle school could be built for around $30 million.  As parents point out, this isn't the first time a decision like this had to be made for the Carolina Forest area, and it won't be the last

"People hear about Horry County and Myrtle Beach, they want to come. Want to make it their home," Penn said. "We have to welcome that in every way that we can."

It could be another two years before a school is built, but the board is considering up to five new buildings as they predict thousands of new students will join the Horry County school district over the next ten years. The board wants to find a solution now to fix future overcrowding problems.

Parents sign online petition

More than 150 parents have signed a petition against one of the latest options on the table to stop overcrowding at Ocean Bay Middle. Some Carolina Forest parents feel keeping sixth graders at the elementary school level instead of moving on to middle school would just create crowding at all the elementary schools. The petition states they are also concerned it will affect their school experience, since those students would miss out on certain middle school electives.

Instead, this group of parents wants council to redraw the attendance lines in a way that works for everyone. This is the latest protest against one of the school board's options to help with overcrowding. Just two months ago, Arrowhead parents passed out flyers against the suggestion to redraw attendance lines to send more students to Blackwater Middle.

Since there has been plenty of pushback to the suggested solutions, one parent says the board might need to just go in a different direction with the discussion.

"Certainly I would rather they revisit the whole issue in order to make the right decision if they can't make a decision tonight," said Carolina Forest parent Jennifer Mullen, before Monday's board meeting. "But it would be nice to have the situation resolved."

Parents who signed the petition planned to be at the school board meeting Monday night for the big vote, but there may be a different outcome. The board wants to get a final vote taken care of since it could cause some changes for students as soon as next year. But new numbers are out that could completely change the discussion.

School board mulls two options

The two main options on the table have been to either redraw the attendance lines to send more students to Blackwater Middle School or to change the grade grouping and keep Carolina Forest sixth grade students at elementary schools. But now the district has its research on how this will affect the future. New numbers show redrawing attendance lines will just shift the problem, and overcrowd the schools that are under capacity now.

When it comes to the sixth grade plan, research shows it will cost the district more for new teachers and staff that will be needed, and more money to pay for transportation and food services. With these kinds of realities, Horry County School Board Chair Joe Defeo says now it just might make more sense to build a new school altogether.

Defeo says now there's a clearer picture for the board to make a decision.

"These hard numbers make a difference," said Defeo. "Because we're really looking at true data. And not just somebody's conjecture or thought process."

Defeo tells WMBF News the board has appreciated all the feedback from parents, and that each comment is considered in the decision.

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