Newer isn't always better
You can't blame the people of McClellanville for wanting a brand new high school. They have seen other parts of the Charleston County School District get new buildings, and they want the best for their children, too.
But in view of fiscal reason and enrollment realities, it is fair to question the Charleston County School Board's 11th-hour decision to accommodate that community's requests.
And it would be no surprise if Charleston County voters remember that lapse of judgment in November when they are asked to endorse a tax hike to pay for school building projects.
It's not as if the district had planned to leave McClellanville students out in the cold. The plan was to add to and improve the lovely 1921 school in the heart of the town, which underwent a $4.4 million restoration after Hurricane Hugo. It functioned well until the school population dropped, and in 2009 middle schoolers began sharing a campus with Lincoln High.
But Lincoln High is no longer adequate, so the school board's initial plan was to add to the former middle school building and refit it as a high school. The site of the present Lincoln High would be used for athletics.
As school board member Chris Fraser writes on our Commentary page today, the revised plan to leave empty two buildings and buy another site for a new building is not a good use of public money. The high school population is tiny - 106 - and if all the students who now go to school out of their attendance zone were to return, it would increase by fewer than 30.
Because of its size, Lincoln is exceptionally expensive to operate on a per pupil basis, and the courses it offers are limited.
Informed voters would not be happy to make it even more expensive by building a new school - an additional $25 million to $35 million.
And voters could lose confidence in a board that takes such arbitrary action.
Sullivan's Island Elementary, with three times the students of Lincoln High, was rebuilt to accommodate 500 (over the objections of many residents) because the district insisted that building for fewer didn't make sense money-wise.
It would be wonderful if the school district could afford to give each constituency exactly what it wants - particularly one like McClellanville that considers its school the center of its community. Who wouldn't want to reward parents who take the time and make the effort to lobby for their children?
But the fact is that newer isn't always better. And the scenic village of McClellanville is testimony to that.
Its enduring charm is due to families that have lived there for generations, spreading oaks, expansive marsh views and quaint, historic houses - and the stately 1921 brick school building, which once housed all grades from first grade through high school.
The district's administration showed wisdom when it recommended renovating St. James-Santee Elementary to add middle school grades, while renovating McClellanville Middle School for the high school.
Instead, the board voted 5-3 with minimum discussion, in a hastily arranged meeting, to build a new high school. Plans for improvements at the elementary school remain on the list, but career and technology improvements for high schoolers have been eliminated.
We would be among the first to call for a new high school in McClellanville if the alternative posed by the CCSD were insufficient. Those students, while few in number, deserve a quality education in a quality facility.
But realistically, the historic school building could have been just that quality facility.
County taxpayers should be concerned. District officials should be worried about what the board's decision means to the building referendum planned for November.
The school board's vote on Lincoln High needs to be reconsidered.