School districts in fast-growing areas of suburban Berkeley and Dorchester counties are quickly running out of desks.
Many schools in Dorchester District 2 and Berkeley County are at or above capacity, with the districts growing by what amounts to a new school's worth of students each year, spread out over all grades and throughout the districts.
That's forcing districts to get creative to accommodate the growth, said Dorchester District 2 Superintendent Joe Pye. "I have already been out to the schools to make sure every available room is being used."
With several new mega-neighborhoods such as Nexton, East Edisto and Cainhoy Plantation on the horizon, growth isn't expected to slow down any time soon.
From 2000 to mid-2013, the population of Berkeley County jumped by 36 percent, adding more than 51,000 residents since the turn of the century. From the time the recession officially ended in 2009, Berkeley County's population has been growing by about 5,400 each year.
In neighboring Dorchester County the population has soared by 51 percent since the 2000 census.
Dorchester County had an estimated 145,397 residents in mid-2013 while Berkeley County had 194,020.
To make room for the new students, both school districts in 2012 pushed referendums to raise taxes to build and renovate schools.
Dorchester plans to spend $179 million on three new elementary schools, a new middle school and renovations to add space at 11 other schools.
Berkeley County plans to build three new elementary schools, a new middle school and a new high school and renovate 29 schools at a total cost of $198 million.
But only one of those schools, Nexton Elementary, has broken ground so far. Plans call for Nexton and the three Dorchester elementary schools to open for the 2015-16 school year.
In the meantime, children who come into the district need classrooms, teachers and desks.
"We know we will be using portables again next year but we don't know the specifics," said Berkeley County School District spokeswoman Susan Haire. "We are just starting to gather that information."
In Berkeley County, 15 schools are already at or above capacity.
Dorchester County also is overcrowded at several schools and is planning to bring in additional portable classrooms next year, Pye said.
"Right now, we only have budgeted for 500 extra students next year," said Dorchester 2 chief financial officer Allyson Duke. "I'm thinking about moving that up to 600." The district has 643 more students this year than last, she said.
To accommodate the extra students, some fine arts teachers have to be "floaters," setting up camp in a different classroom each period. Other teachers use other non-classroom spaces, such as stages or media centers, Pye said.
Berkeley Deputy Superintendent Archie Franchini agreed.
"Our goal is to best use the available space while we also provide for the safety and instructional needs of all students," he said. "In the schools for which we anticipate significant enrollment increases, we are considering a variety of approaches." That also includes spaces not currently used as classrooms.
Having extra students also means having extra teachers. The districts both predict they'll need about 12 to 15 more teachers in the coming year.
Districts are in the budget process now for the upcoming year and trying to figure out how to afford that without raising taxes.
"It's early in the process but we are still facing a deficit budget," said District 2 chief financial officer Allyson Duke. "We are still getting input from the public and hoping that when the finals numbers come from the Legislature, we'll be able to balance the budget without raising taxes or cutting anything."
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.
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