The recent new student enrollment freeze at Gold Hill Elementary School in Tega Cay may be a sign new schools are headed to the area, educators say.
“We’re looking at 1,000 (new) students a year,” said Diane Dasher, Fort Mill school board chair.
Fort Mill schools had more than 13,000 students enrolled at the end of the 2015-2016 school year, according to the S.C. Department of Education. The district grew by 7.4 percent, or more than 900 students.
The school board voted Tuesday to place an enrollment freeze on any new students not enrolled for first grade at Gold Hill Elementary by close of business on Aug. 2.
Any new students will instead attend Tega Cay Elementary School, which is less than 10 minutes from Gold Hill.
Students who have to enroll at Tega Cay Elementary will continue to ride their assigned bus to Gold Hill Elementary, according to the district. Shuttle buses will take them to Tega Cay Elementary in the morning and return them to Gold Hill so they can board their assigned buses home.
“We like to fill up existing schools before we build new ones,” Dasher said.
However, new schools may not be far off.
“We’re going to have to look at doing a referendum soon,” Dasher said. “We’ll have to build new schools because they will most likely all be full.”
As growth continues, so will funding issues. Act 388, South Carolina’s 2006 property tax reform measure, replaced a tax levy on primary residences with a one-cent sales tax increase on most retail purchases to pay for school operations. Act 388 left many school districts short on revenue, resulting in spending cuts.
The state is also not fully funding the base student cost as outlined in state law.
“We’ve got to build new schools and to staff the new schools is really tough when you don’t get funded at the rate you’re supposed to be funded,” Dasher said.
She said the Fort Mill area needs more commercial and industry to bring funding to the schools.
The school board also approved a new enrollment freeze on all grades at Gold Hill Elementary, effective at 3:30 p.m. Sept. 1. Students who have not registered by then will attend Tega Cay Elementary beginning Sept. 5.
The freeze aims to ensure the school’s main areas — the cafeteria and library — aren’t overtaxed, Dasher said.
The district is monitoring enrollment numbers, which can change hourly, to know if more freezes should be recommended to the school board, said Joe Burke, chief communication officer for the district.
Burke said school capacity monitors what the district believes the class size should be for each grade level and the number of classrooms available for each level.
“When we say we are close to capacity, it means we have run out of extra rooms that can be used as classrooms before we start to place students in existing classrooms, causing the class sizes to go up,” he said. “Class sizes do fluctuate some but we try to keep them as close to acceptable ranges as possible.”
Parents who have children already enrolled at Gold Hill Elementary can transfer their older students to Tega Cay Elementary.
For example, parents who have a first-grade student not registered by Aug. 2 who have an older child already enrolled in Gold Hill Elementary may send both students to Tega Cay Elementary, Burke said.
Amanda Harris: 803-329-4082