Daniel Island students might stay in the Berkeley County School District even if voters choose to switch their address to Charleston County.
Then again, they may not, according to a state Attorney General's opinion.
"(I)t is our opinion that, if Charleston County were to annex Daniel Island, its doing so would not necessarily affect BCSD's boundary lines," Assistant Attorney General Brendan McDonald wrote in the Feb. 28 opinion. "We caution, however, that this is a novel issue and plausible legal arguments may be made that Daniel Island could, with annexation, become part of the CCSD."
The opinion, which carries no legal weight, suggests that the parties involved should seek a declaratory judgment on the issue. It also says that if the lines do not change, state law would still require an agreement by both school districts to have a district with territory in more than one county.
"I was a little disappointed that the Attorney General's opinion was not any more definitive on the issue," said Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston, who with Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Goose Creek, had sought the opinion in September. "We waited six months for the best legal minds to give us the opinion that we really should be seeking the opinion elsewhere."
What's more, Grooms said he can recall two times when the county boundaries of Berkeley and Charleston were changed and both included school attendance zones.
The first time was for an addition to a subdivision in Crowfield Plantation that straddled the county line, so the Berkeley and Charleston county councils asked the Legislature to change the boundaries to keep the tract in Berkeley.
"There was no mention of the school district, but the kids at the end of that street now attend schools in Berkeley County," he said.
The second case involves a tract by the S.C. Highway 41 bridge, which also switched to Berkeley County, he said.
"Any houses that would be built there, that is actually assigned to the Berkeley County School District," he said.
The Daniel Island Neighborhood Association and the Daniel Island Property Owners Association met with lawyers last summer to determine if there was interest among voters in switching counties. At issue were county services, property taxes and schools. Daniel Island is in the city of Charleston and Berkeley County.
After 10 percent of the island's voters signed a petition, Gov. Nikki Haley appointed a commission that includes Michael White and John Tiencken, both of Daniel Island, Shirley Hinson of Goose Creek and John West of Moncks Corner.
The commission is charged with studying the issue and reporting back to Haley. It has held two meetings and has a third one planned for March 20.
"We were waiting for the AG's opinion since that will direct our next steps," said Tiencken, chairman of the commission. He declined to be specific, but said he believes the opinion "gives us some direction with regard to where the school district lines will be, and I think that's important in our final decisions. We're going to have to decide as a group, but I think the opinion does provide some guidance."
Berkeley school district officials have maintained all along that the lines might not change.
"Based on our interpretation of the law, we anticipated the attorney general's opinion to read similar to this," Superintendent Rodney Thompson said.
The school district question is essential to many of the other issues affecting the possible annexation, Grooms said.
"It would be difficult to make an informed decision without a definitive answer to the question of which school district, Charleston or Berkeley," he said. "Even the issue of property taxes is affected. Right now the school district portion of the property tax bill is lower in Charleston County, but if the school district doesn't change, then there's really no difference in the property taxes."
The commission likely will not complete its report by the April deadline suggested by Haley, Tiencken said.
"I think that's a reflection of the complexity of this issue," he said. "It's a lot more perhaps than folks suspected."
After the commission makes its report, Haley will order an election. If Daniel Island voters pass the measure by a two-thirds margin, a majority of Charleston County voters must then vote to accept the island before the county line is moved.
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.
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