School board steps up on Rivers
It would be easy for the Charleston County School Board to just sit tight. Plans for the use of the former Rivers school building are in place. Even just revisiting the issue is sure to produce discord.
But the nine-person board, with three new members and a fourth who has served on the panel for only one month, is not taking the easy route in this case.
Upon a recommendation by Tom Ducker, who was sworn in Monday, the board will hold a workshop on Nov. 28 to discuss the controversial Rivers plan with the community.
It is a decision that will start the new board’s year on the hot seat. But nobody said being on the school board is easy.
The situation is charged with emotion. The board in 2007 agreed that Rivers would be shared. That plan was for a “High Tech High” to use 40 percent of the Rivers space.
The name has changed from High Tech High to Lowcountry Tech. But Superintendent Nancy McGinley still proposes putting that new program, which would provide technological instruction to students drawn from Burke, West Ashley and North Charleston high schools, at the Rivers site.
The Charleston Charter School for Math and Science would use the remaining 60 percent.
Since that 2007 agreement, though, CCSMS has taken off, with impressive scholastics and hundreds more students wanting to attend than the allotted space at the Rivers site can accommodate.
Lowcountry Tech is scheduled to begin in January when the building construction will be finished. But CCSMS advocates would like to use the whole building — and suggest there is ample space for Lowcountry Tech at Burke High School, which has experienced a dramatic drop in enrollment in the last few years despite an impressive new campus.
CCSM advocates also point out that adding a wing at Rivers to accommodate its extra students would cost $7 million that the district doesn’t have.
Lowcountry Tech supporters say that the program belongs at Rivers, and that pushing it aside for CCSMS is unfair and unwise.
They are concerned about black students being shortchanged again if Lowcountry Tech is displaced by a charter school that, while it is now racially balanced, might not remain that way.
Mr. Ducker, in requesting the workshop, made it clear that he does not know the right answer. He wants information.
Todd Garrett was appointed to a vacant downtown seat last month before being elected to the board last week. A school choice supporter, he said it makes sense to discuss the Rivers situation, which has changed since 2007.
Indeed, dozens of charter school supporters attended Monday’s meeting after its board agreed to ask the county board to develop a permanent plan for its middle school students.
That is a reasonable request from a school wanting to chart its course. And for the board to respond effectively, it will need all the information it can get.
The workshop also should be a good opportunity for all sides to be heard.
Regardless of the outcome, it could lay to rest the uncertainty and animus that seem to hover over the future of the Rivers site.
The Charleston County School Board, in agreeing to address the elephant in the room, is showing courage and a resolve to make decisions that are best for taxpayers and students.