Daniel Island is a step closer to getting two new schools promised by the Berkeley County School District, but some residents feel they were duped by district officials into supporting a $198 million referendum that will pay for them.
Charleston County school leaders are facing a cash-flow problem with the district’s school construction program, and it could mean delaying projects such as the new Chicora Elementary, Angel Oak Elementary or Laing Middle.
“These bureaucrats came in with this fallacious sales pitch and got people to vote,” said resident Ryan Gilsenan. “The whole thing was misleading and I think it’s shameful.”
From the beginning, the school improvement campaign called for building five new schools, including a high school and a middle or elementary school in the Clements Ferry Road area.
Gilsenan takes issue with the possible location of the school that would relieve overcrowding at Daniel Island School, a kindergarten through eighth-grade school built for 1,200 students that was about 100 students over capacity last school year.
He and others say the district led voters to believe the school would be on Daniel Island, where residents are used to a lifestyle that includes walking or biking to school.
Now he is worried that that won’t be the case.
District officials said no decision has been made. They are considering “several options on the Daniel Island/Cainhoy peninsula,” according to a statement.
“We are fortunate to have several options available and all are under consideration at this time,” said school board member Doug Cooper.
On June 11, the board voted unanimously to negotiate with Cainhoy Land for a site to build a 1,500-student high school off Clements Ferry Road on part of an 8,000-acre tract owned by the family of the late Harry Frank Guggenheim. Plans call for the school to open in August 2017, drawing students from Daniel Island and Cainhoy.
District officials have not decided whether the second school will be an elementary or middle school.
In a public forum before the referendum, district officials and campaign volunteers “totally represented to us that best efforts were going to be made to put a school on Daniel Island,” Gilsenan said. “They said they were not set on Clements Ferry Road at all. ... With this kind of bait and switch, the leaders of this campaign appear to have taken blatant advantage of the trust of the parents on Daniel Island who opened their wallets to pass this referendum.”
More than 70 percent of Daniel Island voters supported the November school improvement campaign.
District emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request seem to bear out that the district was intentionally vague about the possible location of a school.
“What I find thoroughly repulsive is that it is clear to me that behind the scenes the BCSD never had any plans for a middle school on Daniel Island but publicly they were spreading the opposite message to deceive the voters to gain their support,” said Tim Callanan, a Berkeley County councilman who represents the area.
Matt Sloan, president of the Daniel Island Co., said there are sites on the island that can accommodate a school.
“We understand the district is looking at all options and we hope and trust they will do everything they can to make sure that the existing grades that are presently on Daniel Island will always be provided for,” he said.
Gilsenan said his primary reason for moving to Daniel Island last year was so that his four children could ride their bikes to school, as his oldest, a second-grader, did every day.
“It’s such a selling point to live near a neighborhood school,” Gilsenan said. “The idea of neighborhood school is virtually lost in time. I felt my kids needed a place where they could ride their bikes everywhere.”
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or facebook.com/brindge.