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It began with a group of parents who hoped to replace Shell Point Elementary School after it closes next year.
But as the group grew -- and members talked more about what they wanted -- the proposed charter school became something different. Bridges Preparatory School is no mere replacement of Shell Point, committee chairwoman Ivie Szalai said.
In fact, it will aim to serve students in kindergarten through 12th grade, which Szalai said could offer parents an alternative after the Beaufort County School District's decision to restrict school transfers.
Szalai said the decision to eventually provide 13 grade levels also was driven by a desire to protect families from rezoning and grade reconfigurations, such as the district's recent decision to move fifth-graders to Robert Smalls Middle School.
Bridges Preparatory School would become the area's second charter school, but it would differ from the first -- Riverview Charter School -- in at least one respect. It will seek to be part of the S.C. Public Charter School District, not the local district.
"We really want this to be a positive thing," Szalai said. "We don't want it to be an uphill battle to get this thing going. The state district is there. They want to support it; they want it to succeed."
Joining the state district means the school will be open to any student in S.C.
It also means less money per pupil. State charter school Superintendent Wayne Brazell said between state and federal funding, state charter schools receive about $6,200 per student.
Riverview Charter School, the county district's only charter school, was set to receive about $8,600 per student, Phyllis White, the district's chief operational services officer, said in August.
If Bridges Preparatory opens with 400 students, as it plans, that's a difference of $960,000.
"It's definitely doable on the state district funds," Szalai said. "We feel very, very confident about it."
Brazell said Bridges Preparatory is not the first state charter school that aimed to serve kindergarten through 12th grade, however, several schools that opened with that intent have since decided against it.
"The cost of operating a high school and offering all 24 graduation credits -- it's problematic," he said. "High school is much more expensive to operate than a K-7."
Joining the state district means the school won't be under the district's voluntary desegregation order. Riverview has struggled to have a racial makeup that's close to the district as a whole.
Bridges Preparatory must be in line with demographics, though. Brazell said charter-school law dictates the school be within 20 percent of minority population percentages of either the state or the school's targeted area -- the committee can chose which.
Szalai said community meetings that will offer more information about the Bridges Preparatory's goals and curriculum are planned.
The committee hopes to complete its charter-school application by May. The application includes curriculum proposals, enrollment projections, a five-year budget and a calendar.
That application also includes letters -- usually about 1,000 -- of community support. The committee collected about 800 in support of Shell Point Charter School, Szalai said. However, because those letters were collected before the group adopted its current name and had a different set of objectives, organizers will have to round up new ones.
Szalai said the committee hopes Bridges Preparatory will open in the fall of 2013 with kindergarten through seventh-grade classes. One grade would be added each year after that.
Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.