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School board may balance elementary enrollments
Members to look at plans to shift students from Blandford to Rincon, Ebenezer
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The Effingham County Board of Education is considering a proposal that would lower the enrollment that is by far the largest among the county’s eight elementary schools.

The proposal would draw new attendance boundary lines for Blandford, Ebenezer and Rincon elementary schools. No other county schools would be redistricted.

Blandford, with 841 students at latest count, consistently has an enrollment of about 100 more students than the next-closest elementary school. Marlow had an enrollment of 743 as of Nov. 5. Blandford’s student body would top 900 students, but 66 pre-kindergarten students zoned for BES attend Rincon Elementary instead.

Superintendent Randy Shearouse suggested having the school board’s Jan. 23 meeting in Rincon, so the public could see the suggested attendance maps and “hear the information, see the numbers and see why this proposal is out there.” Shearouse added that he hopes a decision on redistricting will be made sometime in February.

“We still have a few meetings to go before anything is decided,” BoE Chairman Lamar Allen said.

Rincon and Ebenezer are currently at the lower end of Effingham’s elementary school enrollments. Rincon has the second-lowest at 637, higher than only Sand Hill’s 616, and Ebenezer (645) is neck-and-neck with Springfield (644) for third-lowest.

“Blandford is full,” Allen said. “We’ve either got to add on to that school, which is going to cost us quite a few hundred thousand dollars, or we’ve got all these other schools where numbers are down (compared to BES).”

Under the proposal, Fort Howard Road would be the Rincon-Blandford dividing line, with all students who live north of Fort Howard Road attending Rincon and all south of it going to Blandford.

Meanwhile, “we let the Rincon city limits be the break-off point to go to Ebenezer,” said Jimmy Helmly, the school district’s transportation coordinator. Essentially, that means the students in the Hickory Knob area would move from Rincon to Ebenezer.

“If you go back five or six years, this is basically the Rincon Elementary district (as it was then),” Helmly said.

Also, pre-kindergarten students would return to their “home” district by attending Blandford Elementary rather than Rincon.

The net result, using current enrollment figures in the equation, would be moving 163 students from Blandford to Rincon, 65 students from Rincon to Ebenezer and 66 pre-K children from Rincon back to Blandford. That would adjust projected 2014-15 enrollments to 744 for Blandford, 710 for Ebenezer and 669 for Rincon, according to Helmly.

“It does equal it out pretty good,” Allen said.

“Yes, sir, across the board,” said Helmly, who put together the proposal at the request of Shearouse and Slade Helmly, the executive director of administrative services.

Effingham County currently offers school choice — meaning parents can enroll their children in a school other than the one for which they are zoned, provided that school has available room and the parent can provide transportation. Board member Vickie Decker asked if Blandford, Ebenezer and Rincon students designated for redistricting would be allowed the choice to stay where they are.

Shearouse said students were given that option when other county schools were redistricted, and “that can be a choice that we make again.” However, he does not anticipate enough students doing that to negate, for example, Blandford’s enrollment reduction from 841 to 744.

“I don’t think a hundred (redistricted) students would decide to stay there,” Shearouse said. “I don’t think we would go back to that (841) number again if folks had to take their children there. But you would have a few: ‘I’m a fifth-grader, I’ve attended Blandford my whole time and I want to stay there.’”

The redistricting measures would make bus routes more efficient, Jimmy Helmly said.

For example, a younger student could ride with an older brother or sister on the same bus.

“Having it at the home school is so much better because they’re on the bus all the time with their siblings, if they have siblings,” Helmly said.

“I agree, it’s the right thing to do,” Mock said.