Changes to proposed rezoning plan for Fort Mill elementary schools discussed

rsouthmayd@heraldonline.comOctober 22, 2013 

Fort Mill schools Superintendent Chuck Epps presented Tuesday night the administration’s recommendations for the new elementary attendance zones, making some major changes to the initial proposal made two weeks ago.

The initial plan, created by outside consultant Dale Holden, had drawn criticism from parents at several schools, who raised concerns about traffic, free- and reduced-lunch percentages and maintaining neighborhood schools during meetings throughout the community.

At Tuesday night’s Fort Mill school district board meeting, Epps said, “What you’ll see is recommendations to change the areas for Riverview, for Orchard Park, for Springfield and for Sugar Creek. The other part of the recommendation is the same (as the initial proposal).”

Under the new plan, the Sutton Place, Willowbrook and Wimbleton Woods neighborhoods, which were previously assigned to Orchard Park Elementary School, are shifted to Riverview Elementary. Several areas around Orchard Park and Riverview, which are currently approved for major housing development, were also reassigned to Riverview, instead of Orchard Park.

The initially proposed plan would have set the percentage of students at Riverview who qualify for free and reduced lunch at 51 percent, well above every other school in the district. Orchard Park’s number would have been at 5 percent.

The administration’s modifications shift those numbers to 37 percent at Riverview and 17 percent at Orchard Park, with both numbers closer to the district’s average of 19 percent.

When Epps announced those statistics, there was scattered applause from the audience, which numbered more than 50 people.

Several Riverview parents had expressed concern at the start of the meeting, repeating statements made at a parent meeting at Riverview last week. After hearing the new recommendation, Nathan Blythe, a parent and Fort Mill town councilman, called it a “step in the right direction.”

“It looks like the school board has agreed to work with us to address the community’s needs, in addition to the individual neighborhoods,” he said.

On the northeastern side of the district, the lines for Sugar Creek and Springfield also were modified.

In an error made in the initial proposal, the Regent Park neighborhood was split between those two schools, but in the new plan the neighborhood is reunified, sending those students to Sugar Creek.

Residents in the Springfield neighborhood had expressed discontent over the last two weeks at their reassignment from Springfield Elementary to Fort Mill Elementary under the initial proposal, but Epps did not rectify this in his recommendation.

“By shifting the Springfield neighborhood (to Fort Mill), it’s really looking at a long-term plan for that area,” Epps said.

One of the goals of the rezoning plan is to accommodate for future growth in the district. Earlier in the board meeting, Epps said the student population in the school district increased by 600 students between the start of the 2012 and 2013 school years, the size of an entire elementary school student body.

In the public participation section at the end of Tuesday night’s meeting, Springfield resident and parent Rhonda McCall raised concerns about traffic in the morning leaving the subdivision and said many Springfield parents would be “disappointed.”

She asked the district to set up a meeting as soon as possible for parents and school leadership at both Springfield and Fort Mill to address concerns.

“They’re both great schools, I know that, but when we moved in, we wanted to go to Springfield Elementary and we love our school,” McCall said.

Epps said the town was looking into the traffic situation and that he would set up that meeting as soon as possible.

The administration’s recommendation will be available to view online, at the Fort Mill district office and in each elementary school. Community members can continue to submit feedback. The board will vote on the attendance zones at its Nov. 5 meeting. The new attendance zones will go into effect at the start of the 2014-2015 school year.

Rachel Southmayd •  803-329-4072

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