"There is nothing more important in our community than education," York County Regional Chamber of Commerce Chairman Wayne Wingate said to us recently.
Few would disagree.
In addition to the primary goal of giving children and teens a solid foundation in core subjects such as reading, English, history and science, our schools are tasked with getting students prepared for college and careers in an increasingly competitive and complex world.
But, that's not all.
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The quality of local schools has a direct impact on home values, which is one of the major cogs that drive the economy. That's why Wingate and the chamber support a bill now in the S.C. House that would raise the millage cap in fast-growing school districts such as Fort Mill's. Lifting the cap would raise property taxes on businesses and homeowners' non-primary residence, such as rental property and vacation homes.
It can't happen soon enough. A big part of the success of our school is small classes and now local school officials are faced with increasing class sizes because they can't hire enough new teachers. Although officials pledge to draw a line in the sand and not increase student-to-teacher ratios above certain limits, they're uncomfortable with the idea and understandably so.
Having the support of business leaders, the bill has a decent chance of passing through the House. However, as Wingate and others have said, it's just a stopgap measure. As we've said before, the law that changed the source of most school funding from residential property tax to state sales tax revenue needs to be addressed and a more viable, equitable formula put in place.
Although the Fort Mill School District collects per-home impact fees from developers, they don't even come close to paying the full cost of growth, such as the need for new schools and other infrastructure. It's also time to think about other ways of spreading the cost of growth around so the bulk is not absorbed by longtime residents. Perhaps a higher school registration fee for those who just moved into the district should be on the table.
Also, as we've said before, local municipal planners need to steer growth more to the commercial sector and away from residential. Communities approved and already in the works are going to have a tremendous impact. It's time to step back and take a breath before more make their way into the pipeline.
More input needed
It was a shame to see such a low turnout at last week's Tega Cay comprehensive land use plan meeting. The growing city, which has hundreds of new homes in the planing stage, would benefit from public participation in such discussions. What's surprising is that many city residents attend council meetings, serve on citizen committees and otherwise get involved in local government. Some residents told us they didn't hear about the meeting until after it was held. Again, that's surprising because the city typically does a good job about getting the word out about important meetings.
Fortunately, the city will host a pubic forum on comprehensive planning during its July 4 celebration. Hopefully, more residents will attend and take part in the discussion.