A disagreement over the location of a new elementary school could come to a head Tuesday, when Hanahan's mayor and City Council plan to confront Berkeley County School Board members.
But Mayor Minnie Newman-Caldwell will have to fit her comments into the three minutes allotted to residents who address the school board during a portion of the meeting called "citizen comments."
Newman-Caldwell said she asked to be on the board's agenda after receiving a "threatening" email from a board member on July 24, but her request was denied. Being on the agenda would have allowed her to have a longer dialog with board members, who do not respond to resident's comments.
"The only thing (Superintendent Rodney Thompson's) secretary said was that my request was denied," Newman-Caldwell said. "She gave no reason why."
On Monday, Thompson said in an email, "Agenda items are linked to the district's goals and areas of focus previously approved by the Board of Education. It is our practice that when guest presenters are asked to speak, their comments are associated with specific items on the agenda."
The school location is not on Tuesday's agenda.
Newman-Caldwell was told she could speak to the board during the citizen comments, which she and the six councilmen intend to do, she said. Because the council and school board meet on the same night, Hanahan City Council moved its regularly scheduled meeting to Wednesday.
The email to Newman-Caldwell from board member Doug Cooper, obtained by The Post and Courier, says in part, "I will look out for the kids and Hanahan will be left like every other area of the district with kids going multiple places with only the egos of council to blame."
City Council has requested assurance from the school board that all children living in Hanahan would attend Hanahan schools. Currently, some are zoned for Goose Creek.
"That email caused me to lose a lot of trust and respect in our leaders and our education board," Newman-Caldwell said. "To say I'm upset over it would be a mild statement."
Cooper said via email Monday that Newman-Caldwell "is telling you something I have never even gotten a reply to. I wasn't even sure she had received it."
Supporting Yes 4 Schools
The fight has been simmering since December, when City Council denied the school board's request to rezone a 12.1-acre tract near Tanner Plantation known as the Bowen site.
The November 2012 "Yes 4 Schools" campaign asked voters to allow the school board to issue $198 million in general obligation bonds to renovate 29 schools and build five new schools, including "a new elementary school in the Tanner Plantation area" to ease overcrowding at Hanahan Elementary, Goose Creek Primary and Sedgefield Intermediate. More than 60 percent of Hanahan voters supported the referendum.
"I was all for the referendum because I know that we need a new school in our community to serve the Tanner/Foster Creek area," Newman-Caldwell said. "They asked me to stick my neck out for a referendum and I'm out as the mayor of our city saying, 'Please support this, we need it in our community,' and then to deny me to discuss the issue, it just goes against my values as a leader and as an educator."
The $22 million school was scheduled to open in August 2015 but has been indefinitely postponed, according to the school district.
The district rejected at least two other sites before asking to rezone the Bowen site. When that request was denied, the district sued City Council to overturn the decision but dropped the appeal in May when the landowner, Wrenn Development, pulled out of the deal. The appeal cost taxpayers more than $50,000 in legal fees.
In denying the rezoning, Hanahan officials cited traffic, the acreage and the number of planned parking spaces. In addition, city officials worried about a projected $200,000 loss of annual revenue.
Thompson said in June that the rezoning denial was "arbitrary and unjustified."
"The covert actions of the city have caused the district to lose a great deal of valuable time and money pursing a site that was never going to be approved," he said. "In fact, prior to going to the planning commission, it appears the decks were stacked against us."
City Council wants the district to build the school on a 21-acre tract of city-owned land on Williams Lane, but the district rejected the site because it could cost $700,000 to add sewer and roads.
In his email to Newman-Caldwell, Cooper said he will propose to build a school at the MenRiv Education Park, a former elementary school that currently serves the district as an education and technology resource center. The school closed in 2005.
"I will make a motion next meeting to rebuild at our MinRiv (sic) facility to help the children city council has abandon (sic) ..." Cooper wrote.
The Goose Creek site, which is about 3.5 miles from Tanner Ford Boulevard has never been mentioned publicly as a possibility.
Residents of Hanahan have asked the district to form a committee of residents and school officials to search for a suitable site, as the district did for the new elementary school on Daniel Island, but the district has balked at the idea, saying the situations are not similar.
Newman-Caldwell tapped Pat Eckstine, a member of Hanahan's planning commission, to head a committee of about 30 residents representing neighborhoods throughout the city to work independently to find a site.
Eckstine, who has also been in touch with Berkeley County legislative delegation members on the issue, also plans to address the school board Tuesday.
"Hanahan only has this one time to make sure this is done right," Newman-Caldwell said. "Whatever is built, we have to make sure it's going to be safe for our community and it's going to serve our community for the next 50 years just like all our other schools have done."
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.
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