Beaufort County Board of Education votes to approve Whale Branch High School performing arts center

UPDATE: The Beaufort County Board of Education voted 7-2 to approve the funding of a performance arts center at Whale Branch Early College High School, at their meeting Tuesday.

BEAUFORT, Sc. (WSAV) – After years of controversy over building a performing arts center at Whale Branch Early College High School, the Beaufort County Board of Education will vote on funding it Tuesday night.

“I love working at Whale Branch, the kids are just fun, they have a lot of talent, they have much more talent than people give them credit for,” said Valerie Wilke, the chorus teacher at Whale Branch. 

Whale Branch is in the Seabrook subdivision of Beaufort and is the only school in the county without its own performing arts center.

I think many members of the school board and community don’t think that Whale Branch matters; and I think many of them probably don’t even want Whale Branch in the district,” Wilke said.
“So often I hear students say the only reason I even come to school is for chorus, or for band, and when they’re so passionate about it and they don’t even have a place to perform,” she said, “They feel like they’re not legitimate, they don’t matter.”

Kathryn Cooke, the band director at Whale Branch, said, “Socioeconomic wise its a poorer district.” and adds, “Our zip code should not determine what we get because of what they think of our kids out here.”

“They have as most people know two brand new schools in the district, and in that cluster, they also got a performing arts center. We have been promised a performing arts center for years, but they just never seemed to find the money,” said Wilke.

The school superintendent proposed borrowing the money for the arts center from their “8 percent” borrowing capacity. Basically, a state law in South Carolina that allows school districts to borrow up to 8 percent of their property value without voter approval. This is the same thing they did to build the entire May River High School,  which went way over budget.

“The estimate was 50 million dollars and it ended up being 70 million dollars so that should send a red flag up for all of us, we didn’t seem to do enough homework,” said David Striebinger with the Board of Education.

Striebinger said it needs to be done, but they need to proceed with caution.

“I think most of the board feels that way,” he said, “I’m disappointed that most of the board doesn’t seem to care about the money.”

The board had slotted an arts center for Whale Branch in their five year plan, dating the construction to begin in 2020, but the school community wants to be a priority.

“It shouldn’t be about politics, it shouldn’t be about north of the broad, south of the broad, our zip code, it should just be about giving these kids an equitable opportunity to succeed in their education,” said Cooke.

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