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Community : Top Stories Last Updated: Aug 21, 2013 - 9:09:52 AM

Interested parties speak out about DI/Cainhoy school sites
By Elizabeth Bush
Aug 21, 2013 - 9:08:38 AM

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Three Daniel Island residents addressed members of the Berkeley County School Board at their August 13 meeting, each expressing a desire to keep elementary and middle grades on Daniel Island. The topic of potential sites for a new school planned for the Daniel Island and Cainhoy area was not on the agenda, but the residents were permitted to voice their opinions during the “citizen comment” portion of the meeting.
According to district spokesperson Amy Kovach, Superintendent Rodney Thompson addressed the residents after their comments and said that any information being discussed about specific locations for the new school is “at best a rumor that would not have been started by this administration.”
“I left the meeting feeling very uncertain about whether or not our input would be considered,” stated Rindy Ryan, one of those who spoke to the board. “Those of us who attended felt that more needed to be done to ensure that the opinions of Daniel Island residents would be heard.”
Since the meeting, Ryan has started a Facebook page entitled “Keep K-8 on Daniel Island.” Within three days, close to 200 people had joined the group.
“Berkeley County had made the commitment to build and maintain a school for Daniel Island that would be K-8,” said Ryan, who moved to the island in 2002. “We counted on that. And since that time, so many other families have chosen to live here for that very same reason. For parents, there is nothing more important in your decision about where to live than the options you have for schools…Explicit or implied, the promise was made that Daniel Island families would be able to send their children to school within walking distance at least until eighth grade. That promise should be kept.”
At issue is where the proposed new school, funded as part of a $198 million voter-approved referendum last fall, will be built and what grade configurations it will serve. The district is considering sites on Daniel Island and along the Clements Ferry Road corridor, where a new high school (also part of the referendum package) is expected to open in 2017.
No announcements on specific locations have been made by the district thus far. The new facility could house either elementary students or middle grades, depending on the specifications of the site selected.  Daniel Island Company President Matt Sloan has expressed his preference that the new school be placed on the island. One scenario suggested by the Daniel Island Company is for the district to consider converting the existing Daniel Island School to all middle grades and building a separate elementary school, which would require a smaller footprint of land.
“A walk-to-school, K-8 environment is one of the essential cores of our community,” added Sloan. “It's vitally important. We remain hopeful that we can have a productive dialogue with the school district about creative solutions to this matter including a possible freestanding elementary school.”
On August 10, Ryan sent a letter expressing her concerns about the site selection process to Berkeley County School Board Member Doug Cooper, also a Daniel Island resident. In his response, Cooper indicated that there are approximately five sites under review, two of which are on Daniel Island. The others, he stated, are close.
“One point to note is that land on Daniel Island is very expensive,” Cooper wrote. “Land for the current school was donated but no such offer has been made for this school. Land on DI is also very expensive to develop for a school due to all the flood plain issues. Another fact to consider is traffic impact…All of these issues are being reviewed and discussed at length.”
Sloan confirmed in June that the Daniel Island Company (DIC) presented the district with four potential sites on the island for a new school. Costs associated with the land, parcel sizes, and other factors are all weighing in to the district’s decision. Cooper expressed his frustration over the situation.   
“…It’s interesting in an award winning master planned community proper allocations for our students were never addressed by the developer or the city who had to approve the plan,” he stated.
“That’s a ridiculous statement,” countered Sloan. “…The School District is the entity that plans schools. Our projected residential numbers have never varied since the day we donated the land for the original Daniel Island School almost 15 years ago.”  
According to Sloan, the district was given two options during the planning stages for the island’s first public school. The first, he said, was a sale of land for an elementary school. The second was a donation of property if the district were to provide elementary and middle school grades in a two story K-8 scenario.
“This district readily accepted the donation under those terms and the community has every reason to expect the district to continue to provide all of these grades on the island,” Sloan added. “We are hopeful they will study all on-island scenarios, including the conversion of the existing school to a middle school and the construction of new elementary school. This was discussed during the bond referendum and I feel the idea has significant merit. "
But for Krysta Carhart, a resident of the Nelliefield subdivision, building a new school in the area of Clements Ferry Road is an appealing choice. Her children are able to attend the Daniel Island School because they were already enrolled at the time the attendance lines changed (her neighborhood now is zoned to attend Cainhoy Elementary Middle School), but the commute to school in the morning isn’t easy, she said.  
“A journey that would normally take 15-20 minutes takes 45-50 minutes,” added Carhart, who lived with her family on Daniel Island for two years before moving to Nelliefield. “I am happy to do this, as the benefits of sending my kids to Daniel Island School are worth it.”
But she would welcome an opportunity to have a new facility closer to home.  
“I understand the sentiment of parents wanting to ensure that their children are able to continue riding their bikes to school,” she said. “However, I think it is important to take into account the situations of all families served by the new schools.  My children spend an extra hour and a half in the car each day - a total of 7 hours per week commuting to and from school. A Clements Ferry Road location would be more central, and therefore more accessible, to the significant number of children and families living off the Clements Ferry corridor.”
Cooper further reported in his letter to Ryan that multiple factors are being taken into consideration to make the best choice for all stakeholders.  
“I believe that the board clearly understands the concerns of the Daniel Island residents, but at the same time has to be cognizant of the cost to taxpayers,” he stated.
In the meantime, Ryan and others in her Facebook group have launched a petition to gather signatures in support of keeping K-8 on the island. They also received word from Superintendent Thompson last week that the district plans to offer community meetings on the topic beginning next month to solicit public input. Ryan called Dr. Thompson’s announcement “progress” and hoped the issue would remain a priority for the district.
“I want to be sure the board is mindful of the opinions of the residents of Daniel Island with regards to the money we voted to spend on schools,” she said. “I want to give voice and structure to the process of a dialogue between the voters and the board, and I want to make certain the board is a steward of students and not just a steward of dollars.”
For the Berkeley County School Board and the community, that means coming up with a solution that is in the best interest of all students within the Daniel Island School attendance zone, those who live on the island and those who do not.  
The next Berkeley County School Board meeting will be held at 6:30 pm on          August 27.

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