Horry County el­e­men­taries see first de­cline in 30 years

The Sun News - - Front Page - BY DAVID WEISSMAN dweiss­[email protected]­sun­news.com

Horry County Schools are see­ing a de­cline in en­roll­ment among ele­men­tary schools for the first time in at least 30 years, as over­all growth in the district isn’t as high as an­tic­i­pated.

The 2018-19 en­roll­ment re­port, which com­piles av­er­age daily at­ten­dance dur­ing the first 45 days of the school year, shows that the district added 131 stu­dents to­tal from last year, while en­roll­ment de­clined by 299 stu­dents in grades K-5.

Joe Burch, the district’s plan­ning co­or­di­na­tor, said this is the first time the district hasn’t in­creased its ele­men­tary school en­roll­ment since at least 1988, which is as far back as he has com­piled data.

Mid­dle school grades (6-8) ac­counted for the ma­jor­ity of the district’s growth, with an ad­di­tional 402 stu­dents, while high school grades (9-12) added 28 stu­dents.

Burch said these num­bers are com­piled ev­ery year, and they’re im­por­tant to con­sider as of­fi­cials plan for hir­ing ad­di­tional teach­ers, ren­o­vat­ing ex­ist­ing schools and build­ing new ones.

The district has in­creased at an an­nual rate of more than 940 stu­dents the pre­vi­ous four years, and Burch said he ex­pected a slow­down this year, but noth­ing this dras­tic.

Burch didn’t know pre­cisely what led to the slower-thanex­pected growth, but he has no­ticed a flattened birth rate among res­i­dents and, al­though mi­gra­tion to the county re­mains high, those mi­grat­ing aren’t nec­es­sar­ily bring­ing young chil­dren.

He said the re­port is pre­lim­i­nary as his of­fice fur­ther an­a­lyzes the num­bers by in­di­vid­ual schools to help de­ter­mine which build­ings are at or above rec­om­mended ca­pac­ity.

The num­bers are par­tic­u­larly rel­e­vant as Horry County’s school board is try­ing to move for­ward with its five-year cap­i­tal plan, which is pro­jected to cost more than $754 mil­lion.

The board had ac­cess to the re­port be­fore its Dec. 3 meet­ing, when its mem­bers de­ter­mined which pro­jects they wanted to pri­or­i­tize.

Based on the re­sults of the meet­ing, the board’s pri­or­i­ties in­clude mo­du­lar class­rooms, ren­o­vat­ing St. James High School and Myr­tle Beach High School, and re­plac­ing the Horry County Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­ter and Whit­te­more Park Mid­dle School.

Board mem­ber Ray Win­ters said he was happy that know­ing the board’s pri­or­i­ties will al­low them to move for­ward, but he was slightly dis­ap­pointed that build­ing a new ele­men­tary school in the Carolina For­est area wasn’t among the top pri­or­i­ties.

Carolina For­est at­ten­dance area added 298 stu­dents this year, the most by far of any at­ten­dance area, ac­cord­ing to the re­port, which showed St. James (53 stu­dents), So­cas­tee (37) and North Myr­tle Beach (25) as the only other ar­eas with an in­crease. Aynor saw the largest de­crease, with 93 fewer stu­dents than 201718.

Carolina For­est has added 1,546 stu­dents since the 2013-14 school year, the re­port shows.

Board mem­ber Holly Heni­ford said she doesn’t doubt the re­port’s num­bers, but she be­lieves the slowed growth is merely “a blip.”

“I’m not pay­ing at­ten­tion to (these num­bers),” she said. “Growth is com­ing.”

The re­port es­ti­mates en­roll­ment in the district — which rose 10 per­cent in the past five years — to grow by 4 per­cent dur­ing the next five years, with a ma­jor­ity of that growth in the high school grades.

Heni­ford added that she wasn’t happy at all with how the Dec. 3 meet­ing con­cluded be­cause the board did not pri­or­i­tize any pro­jects for the growth she sees com­ing in North Myr­tle Beach.

Heni­ford, the only board mem­ber whose district in­cludes North Myr­tle Beach, said she’s done re­search on vested prop­er­ties in the area and if even a small per­cent­age of peo­ple mov­ing into those prop­er­ties bring a stu­dent, they could fill a whole new school.

The board is try­ing to de­ter­mine how to fi­nance its cap­i­tal plan, a de­ci­sion that could be af­fected by the slower growth as most state fund­ing is awarded based on the num­ber of stu­dents at­tend­ing the district.

The South Carolina Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion’s lat­est rev­enue per pupil re­port shows the Horry County Schools was es­ti­mated to en­roll 44,334 stu­dents this year with the state pro­vid­ing $4,960 per stu­dent.

That es­ti­mate is 1,407 stu­dents more than the district’s re­port shows are at­tend­ing, which would equate to nearly $7 mil­lion less in fund­ing.

John Gard­ner, the district’s chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, was not avail­able to dis­cuss the to­tal fi­nan­cial im­pact of the slower growth.

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