Residents unite against Clover school bond

cmuccigrosso@lakewyliepilot.comMarch 11, 2014 

  • In the bond

    The Clover School District March 22 bond referendum includes five construction projects:

    • The Lake Wylie elementary school at Oakridge Road, across from the middle school, $25 million, to open in August 2016.

    • The new middle school on Barrett Road in Clover, $40 million, to open in August 2016.

    • The ninth grade academy in what is presently Clover Middle School, which would be remodeled and replaced with the new middle school, $10 million, to open in August 2017.

    • A new aquatics and fitness center on S.C. 274 north of Crowders Creek Elementary School, operated in partnership with the YMCA,$14 million.

    • Athletic facility updates include artificial turf and renovations at Memorial Stadium and artificial turf at two other Clover fields: Clover High and Middle, $6 million.

    The balance includes about $4 million for furnishings, equipment, landscaping and other costs.

— A group of about 15 Lake Wylie residents say they are united to make sure the Clover School District bond referendum does not pass.

“We’re not trying to defeat the bond issue, we’re trying to get it changed,” said resident Don Long. “This is a bad plan.”

Lake Wylie and Clover residents will vote March 22 on a $67 million bond referendum that includes five construction projects. The total estimated cost of the package is $99 million, but the district plans to make a $32 million down payment.

“We’re asking people to vote no,” said Margaret Blackwell, chairwoman of the Clover School Bond Referendum Committee. The group has been meeting for about six weeks.

Blackwell, a former educator whose more than 38-year career included teaching high school math and working as a high school principal and central staff administrator in Texas, says the main concern is a “mega high school.”

“This referendum is setting the table for Clover High School to become a 3,400-student mega high school,” Blackwell said. “Too many students get lost and it’s hard to manage.”

Part of the plan calls for building a new middle school on Barrett Road in Clover for $40 million and renovating Clover Middle for $10 million to create a ninth grade academy for Clover High.

Bigger issues

Blackwell said there are lot of problems at large high schools that exceed what she says is the ideal capacity of no more than 1,800 students.

“Deterioration of quality education can be expected,” she said, “because the large high schools function like bureaucracies, while smaller schools function like communities.”

Mychal Frost, public information officer with Clover School District, said there are more than 1,900 students at the high school, which still delivers high quality education.

“The ideal size of high school is relative to the size of the community and maintaining the high level of education it delivers,” he said.

He also said capacity is how many people can be in the building. “We do our best to build new schools before we hit that point,” he said.

Clover schools superintendent Marc Sosne said vital components for a successful school include community and parent support and how the school is managed.

“We’d be foolish to make a drastic change to the school,” he said, highlighting accomplishments such as being a finalist for the S.C. Palmetto Finest Award, rising test scores and a falling drop-out rate. He said the school has more extracurricular activities and sports and has hired more guidance counselors, social workers and teachers.

He said in 2017, when the planned ninth grade academy would open, the Clover High enrollment for 10th to 12th grades would be about 1,600, “about 400 less than are there now.”

“We don’t think it’s in anyone’s best interest to fund a second high school at this time,” Sosne said. “We believe it’s in the students’ best interest and taxpayers not to build a new expensive high school until we max out of the building we’re in.”

Blackwell said large schools are prone to more drug issues, truancy, gang activity, less attendance and higher drop-out rates.

“All manners of studies on high school size say bigger is not better,” Long said. “There are less opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities. It produces anonymity , and they have no outlets creating more cliques and issues. It’s not a desirable environment, and I can’t imagine why we’re moving in that direction.”

Frost said as the Clover High student body has grown, so has performance while discipline issues have dropped. “We’re doing very well,” he said.

Jamie Henrickson, the mother of two elementary school-age students, said she attended high school with a class of 1,000 in upstate New York. “It was very easy to get lost in a high school that large. There was no school pride. Nobody cared.”

While she considered her education to be “fine,” she doesn’t want the same for her children. “I would have to wait and see if they are able to maintain a high quality school, but I also would start looking at some of the private schools in the area,” she said.

Moving money

But the high school isn’t the group’s only concern.

“Clover already has a very effective ninth-grade academy,” Blackwell said.

Frost said the current academy is two hallways within Clover High School.

“Putting it in a stand-alone facility allows all ninth grade students to grow together,” he said.

Long said he is unsure how effective separating ninth grade students from upper classmen will be, saying all students attend the same activities like football games and ride the same buses.

Group members would rather see renovations to Clover Middle School than build a new school.

“Clover Middle School is a good facility, just not on par with the Oakridge (Middle School),” Blackwell said. “Oakridge is newer. Clover Middle still has capacity for over 300 students, so why are we spending $40 million of taxpayer money to make the two schools look alike?”

Frost said building a second middle school provides equitable opportunities across the district and “renovating Clover Middle would not reach that objective.”

Blackwell said with the $32 million the district plans to use for the down payment, the new $25 million elementary school proposed on Oakridge Road across from the middle school, could be built and money could be used to refurbish Clover Middle School to bring it on par with OMS.

Crowders Creek Elementary School has 1,084 students. “We need that relief school immediately,” Blackwell said.

Second high school

Henrickson said the plan is “like slapping a Band-Aid on the problem” as school officials have acknowledged a second high school may be needed in 10 years.

“Why spend a huge amount money, when we’ll still be paying for this bond, and not build a high school now?” she asked. “Why put it off?”

Nearby districts in Fort Mill and Rock Hill have already built second and third high schools so they aren’t so large, she said.

Frost said that it’s not time for a second high school. He said having two schools would split resources and opportunities for students. “To expect delivery of and opportunities to be the same with half the number people doesn’t make sense,” Frost said.

Dick Lewis, who has lived in Lake Wylie for 27 years, said he has no children or grandchildren in the schools, but is interested in giving students the best education. “I’ve been so proud of them for their scholastic ranking,” he said.

His main issue is with the high school. “I feel we need a Lake Wylie high school,” he said. The growth rate here, he said, is about 15 percent versus 1 percent in Clover.

“It would seem to dictate the Lake Wylie area should have a stand-alone high school,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to have a stand-alone school in Clover servicing both areas. The highway system and demographics of growth shows a lot of congestion going to a stand-alone high school in Clover with a (Lake Wylie) population that is going to double in 10 to 15 years.”

He said the district should use the 172 acres it owns on Dailmler Boulevard near Allison Creek for a high school. There are no plans for that land now.

During a presentation to Lake Wylie Rotary Club last week, however, Blackwell said a second high school should be built closer to the Lake Wylie population. “It’s time to stop busing kids out of our community to high school,” she said.

.

Tom Smith, former York County councilman and local developer since 1988, supports the district’s bond plan. He said the county and school have been working together for smart planning and know where growth is going.

In 20 years, Smith said, Lake Wylie’s center will shift from Three Points, where S.C. 49, 557 and 274 meet, to Five Points, near Bethelfields.

“Growth is going to follow the lake,” Smith said. Smith said this bond buys time until a second school is needed, and “10 years is not a very long time.”

“If we’re just building a school for bricks and mortar in Lake Wylie, our taxes are going to go up and the burden will fall on small business,” he said.

Smith, who has four children in the district, doesn’t think a large high school is a problem. “I have faith in the school district and staff, because they’re real people and part of the community,” he said. “I don’t buy into we’re going to lose that sense of community.”

Other issues

Henrickson has issues with the proposed aquatics and fitness center to be built on S.C. 274, north of Crowders Creek Elementary School, for $14 million and to be operated in partnership with the Upper Palmetto YMCA.

She swims at least a couple of times a week at Rock Hill’s facility and would love to have a pool nearby, but doesn’t want to see taxpayer money used to build it.

“It would be great for Lake Wylie and our property values, but it’s not the school’s responsibility to teach my children to swim,” Henrickson said. “It’s the school’s responsibility to teach my children a lot of things and that $14 million could teach them a lot of things.”

Sosne disagrees.

“We live in a lakefront community. My feeling is we can solve the problem before we have a drowning,” he said.

Plus, the swim team of about 50 or 60 students practices outside at River Hills Country Club in Lake Wylie and the district pays rent to the club.

“This (YMCA) facility would benefit the whole community, including people without children in the schools,” Sosne said, adding that the community group of 75 who met in May voted unanimously that the facility would be in the best interest of the children.

Henrickson also questioned a proposed $6 million for school athletic facility updates, including artificial turf and renovations at Memorial Stadium and artificial turf at two other Clover fields.

“Seems like a lot of money for something that’s not necessary,” she said.

Long questions why the district hasn’t already renovated the stadium to make it accessible for the disabled. Frost explained the stadium is accessible, but needs to be brought up to current codes.

As for going with artificial turf, Sosne said it will become usable year round and provide more recreation space. “It will open up for community use instead of the limited use we have now,” he said.

Doing all three fields at once, Sosne said, also provides a significant savings.

Blackwell said the group also has concerns about how the bond package was put together and how public input was handled.

“It was developed with very limited public input,” she said.

Blackwell said the initial meeting last spring was with invited residents, as was the survey. While the survey was available online, she said the time to participate was limited to Oct. 15 through Nov. 1.

“Citizens did not have time to provide input,” she said. “If you truly want to know how the public feels, have one or two community meetings and invite the public to attend and well publicize the meetings.”

Frost said the survey was sent to 8,000 people and 1,800 responded and available on every school website.

“Anyone with an interest could have expressed opinions and sat in on meetings,” Sosne said.

Time to vote

Henrickson urges residents to vote.

“If you agree there is too much unnecessary spending in this bond and 3,400 is too much for this high school, then defeat this bond and let the school board know why,” she said, “so when they go back to the drawing board, they know what people want.”

Long said residents really need to consider the consequences of their vote. “It’s the most important thing this community will deal with in the next 50 years,” he said.

The Vote Yes committee is hosting a Clover School Bond Information Fair from 5 to 7 p.m. March 18 at Lake Wylie Christian Assembly, 5766 Charlotte Hwy., Lake Wylie. The event, in the children’s church area, will feature details about each of the projects.

“We felt like this plan makes the best sense and if we can include some of these projects that will benefit the whole community, it’s a good time to do it,” Sosne said. “We have been very good stewards of the public money and they are getting a lot of return on their investment.”

For more about the opposing group, visit cloverschoolsbond.com.

Catherine Muccigrosso •  803-831-8166

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