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The Beaufort County Board of Education voted 6-5 Friday to close Shell Point Elementary School after the coming school year, eliminating 476 seats and saving an estimated $890,000 during 2012-13.
Board members voted unanimously to keep open Port Royal Elementary School, which also had been suggested for closure.
A few dozen Shell Point parents who attended Friday's meeting were not allowed to address the board and at times had to stifle booing.
The parents showed no qualms, though, about cheering wildly for board members who spoke in support of the school.
Those who voted to close Shell Point characterized it as a fiscal necessity. The district has already slashed math and literacy coaches and increased class sizes. Further cuts in services, they said, would hurt every student throughout the county.
"This is not what any of us want to do, but this is reality," said board member Julie Bell. "We have to make decisions that can benefit all 20,000 kids, not just 500 of them."
Board member Laura Bush said she would not be dissuaded by negative feedback she'd received.
"I don't take well to threats," Bush said. "Whatever votes I take, I am willing to face myself in the mirror the next morning and move forward."
Five members who voted against the closing cited Shell Point's success meeting federal goals for "adequate yearly progress" and cast the closure as a shortsighted move that could jeopardize future plans.
"The population in Beaufort is not going to stop -- it's going to continue to grow," said board member Ronald Speaks. "I don't believe in closing any school."
Opponents also asked why a school that is 88 percent full should be closed.
Phyllis White, chief operational services officer for the Beaufort County School District, said a district study singled out Broad River Elementary, which is only 63 percent full, as the school to close in that area. But Broad River is a large building with twice the capacity of Port Royal Elementary and 1.25 times the capacity of Shell Point. That extra space will be needed when schools are consolidated.
Board member Steven Morello said the district is moving away from neighborhood schools in favor of "centralized learning complexes."
"Neighborhood schools are a dying piece of America, and I'm not willing to drive in another nail," he said.
Morello, Speaks, Earl Campbell, Michael Rivers and Herbert Burnes opposed the motion.
Shell Point parent Lisa Kindwall said the community has "fought the good fight" to save the school and should now focus on creating a new charter school.
"There is an incredible amount of interest," Kindwall said after the meeting. "We think we're going to be able to get 1,000 letters of support within 45 days. That's really our next goal ... to show the community-at-large that there is room for another charter school and that there is demand for another charter school."
The Shell Point closure will almost certainly mean students elsewhere will be assigned to new schools, too.
Under a plan proposed by administrators, beginning in 2012-13, fifth graders at Shell Point, Shanklin and Broad River elementaries would be moved to Robert Smalls Middle School, which currently accommodates grades six through eight.
The rest of Shell Point's students -- along with their teachers -- will move to Broad River Elementary School.
For Broad River to deal with the influx, some of its students could be bumped to Beaufort or Shanklin elementaries, and some Shanklin students might, in turn, be shifted to Whale Branch Elementary.
CAPACITY AND SAVINGS
The board also voted unanimously to consolidate James J. Davis Early Childhood Center into Whale Branch Elementary School and voted 7-4 to merge St. Helena Early Learning Center into St. Helena Elementary School, with Morello, Speaks, Burnes and Rivers dissenting.
In addition, administrators have proposed closing classrooms at 11 other schools.
That issue was not addressed Friday, but Chairman Fred Washington Jr. said it will be brought up at the board's next meeting.
If recommendations are implemented in full, the number of empty seats in the district would drop by about 2,500 -- from 6,134 to 3,560. District staff estimate this would save about $80,000 this year and about $1.5 million next year from reduced spending on staff salaries, building operations and maintenance.
Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.