Will Daniel Island switch counties? School controversy spurs citizens to consider dumping Berkeley

Students head home at the end of the day from Daniel Island School, whose future is getting attention from the Daniel Island Neighborhood Association and the Daniel Island Property Owners Association.There's a move afoot on Daniel Island to switch counties.

Thinking that the grass might be greener across county lines, some residents of Daniel Island are considering a tactic South Carolinians are known for using: Secession.

There is a citizen-driven effort on the island, which is in the city of Charleston, to move from Berkeley County to Charleston County, after a controversy over a new school.

The Daniel Island Neighborhood Association and the Daniel Island Property Owners Association recently met with a legal team “to determine if Berkeley County is representing our interests to the best of their ability,” neighborhood association president Dave Williams wrote in a letter to residents Tuesday.

On Sept. 12, the two associations and the lawyers will hold a “community announcement and Q&A session” that “will be a very defining moment for the residents and future of Daniel Island,” Williams wrote in the letter.

He declined further comment until after the meeting.

Although Williams does not specifically mention seceding, several others did.

“All I know is they have hired a legal firm to drive the move from Berkeley to Charleston,” Berkeley County School Board member and Daniel Island resident Doug Cooper said.

Berkeley County Councilman Tim Callanan, also a Daniel Island resident, agreed that he has also heard about a movement to change counties.

“People have asked me for information on that and I've forwarded them the information that they need,” he said. “It's their right, obviously, to pursue this under state law.”

Callanan says that the owner of a $250,000 house could save more than $500 in property taxes per year by joining Charleston County. Exact figures were unavailable Wednesday, but estimates are that Daniel Island's 9,000 residents make up 4 percent of Berkeley County's population but provide as much as 20 percent of the county's tax base, he said.

“I agree with the sentiment that Daniel Island residents are being ripped off,” Callanan said. “But I don't know if this is the right way to do it or the right time to do it, and that's the only thing that concerns me.”

The Charleston County Auditor's Office and a Charleston County spokesman did not return calls seeking comment.

While many residents might wonder if they are getting their money's worth for their tax dollars, the bigger issue recently has been residents' dissatisfaction with the school board.

“They were misled,” Callanan said, “and they have every right to be aggravated at their school system.”

Last year's $198 million school improvement bond referendum, which island voters passed by a 70 percent to 30 percent margin, included money to build a new school to ease overcrowding at Daniel Island School, which houses students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Residents are now concerned that the district will build the new school on Clements Ferry Road, taking away islanders' ability to walk or bike to school.

If the island joined Charleston County, the school's population would be reduced because some of its students live off the island.

Berkeley County School Superintendent Rodney Thompson has said a location has not been determined for the new school, and promised that residents will be invited to meetings when the district has something to share.

On Wednesday, he said he will not attend the meeting Sept. 12 and declined further comment.

Rindy Ryan, a mother of three, has twice pleaded with the school board to involve residents in the decision-making. She also created a Facebook page called “Keep K-8 on DI!” that has attracted 329 members since Aug. 13.

“I am not privy to the (Sept. 12) agenda, but I think that enough people have gotten frustrated with the responses that we've gotten from the Berkeley County School Board that we are going to talk about what our options are,” she said. “I really just feel like we are hitting a brick wall there and this gives me reason to be encouraged.”

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or www.twitter.com/brindge.