The inevitable news that McClellanville Middle School will be closing to help Charleston County Schools try to trim their $28 million budget deficit was announced yesterday. The vast rural district serving the residents of McClellanville and most of Awendaw may be labeled “District 1”, but many residents didn’t feel that they were number 1 in the hearts of Charleston County School Board.
As a parent I hope that the children going to any of the closing schools don’t experience any turmoil during their transition and that it doesn’t impact their education in a negative way. As a local I can understand how upsetting it must be to see a school you’ve been committed to closing. But as a tax payer I think that it just makes sense after looking at the numbers.
According to Charleston County School Board records, McClellanville Middle School has an average enrollment of 96 students with a capacity of 250. In a time when we should be pushing our occupancy rates to the brim before we spend more on new facilities, McClellanville Middle is operating at under 40% occupancy and enrollment has actually gone down every year for the last decade. This most likely reflects a combination of a natural fluctuation in birth rates (baby-boomer effect), an increase in second home and retirement population in the area, and parents sending their children to schools with better academic achievements. The low enrollment and occupancy rates balloon the cost to educate the average McClellanville Middle School student to over $20,000 per year while averages for all Charleston County Schools come in under $10,000.
The building holding McClellanville Middle School was originally built in 1921 as a public school for all ages. It closed in 1974 among desegregation issues and remained dormant until there was a push in 1988 to renovate and reopen the school to serve the northern end of Charleston County. Before renovations could begin Hurricane Hugo dealt a powerful blow to the school pushing renovation costs to $4.4 million. The traditionally spelled “McClellanville Pvblic School” sign remained through the renovation, though at the time there was much discussion about the impact that the massive public school would have on McClellanville’s quaint Historic District.
Now less than 20 years later the school will close for a second time proving the County’s renovation efforts yet another waste of tax payer dollars. St. James-Santee Elementary School, a few miles north of McClellanville on Highway 17, and Lincoln High School, just a few blocks from McClellanville Middle School, will absorb the students. The question remains: What will happen to the McClellanville Middle School building and what will it’s impact on the community be? I’m sure we will hear more in the coming months of the School Boards intentions for the structure. I feel confident that the Town of McClellanville will have a say, but not the final word, in the decision as well. But what sort of organization will need such a building and who can afford it in a down eceonomy? A charter school? An assisted living facility? Or swanky high-rent McClellanville condos?…that was a joke, no condos!