At Monday night's work session, the board says it's starting these preliminary discussions early so that as much information and community input can be gathered before any line changes are made. Members said they do not expect to make any attendance line changes until the district's $77.6 million building project is completed in two years.
The most up to date and accurate information the district currently has compiled with students' addresses and attendance information is from two years ago. The School Board asked Monday night for updated enrollment information to reflect the district's current population.
This task will be accomplished through the Attendance Area/Map Grid Study which was completed for the district in 2002. By plugging in new numbers, the study will help district administration track enrollment trends and visualize where the county is growing the fastest.
The board spent about an hour looking at an attendance map and throwing ideas into the discussion pool. Much time was spent talking about how to redistribute students so that the Mid-Carolina feeder schools were relieved of overflow and the empty seats at Newberry city schools were filled.
“That's the hard question,” said Vice Chairman Jody Hamm. “Are you going to mess with the line between Mid-Carolina and Newberry?”
The last time attendance lines were redrawn was in 2003, but the changes only affected city schools.
“I think it's time we look at the county as a whole, but I want to be careful because you'll have decades of families that will be affected,” said board member Lee Attaway.
The board also threw out the idea of allowing some form of school choice, at least within the city schools. For example, putting a Montessori program at an elementary school with space available may draw students in from schools that are out of space.
“If we were going to offer a ‘you go wherever you want to,' the three city schools would be a prime place to do it,” Attaway said.
Even if the board opted not to go the school choice route, it acknowledged the probability of similar orders coming from the State Department of Education. State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex has been vocal about his objective to implement school choice within and between Palmetto State school districts.
“Some form of choice, I think, is going to happen,” said Superintendent Bennie Bennett. “How, or how much, I don't know.”
Even if school choice was offered, Bennett said he felt it was unlikely school enrollments would shift significantly.
“Not as many people would take advantage of it as you think,” he said, noting that he believes most parents to be comfortable with the school their child is already attending.
With the option of school choice, the board agreed that “extraordinary circumstance” transfers could be reduced. In addition to general enrollment information, board members asked district administration for a list of all students attending schools outside of their attendance zone due to extraordinary circumstances.
“We're talking about something that's going to be a couple of years down the road,” Bennett emphasized, saying the board and administration will move slowly and flush out all possibilities before making any attendance line changes.