Fort Mill to become the biggest school district in York County? When it could happen.

Fort Mill could in the foreseeable future have the largest school district in York County. Meanwhile, leaders work to figure out what to do with all those new students.

Cole McKinney with Catawba Regional Council of Governments told the Fort Mill school board Tuesday night he forecasts a big number for district growth in the next five years.

That growth rate — about 6.5 percent — isn’t out of line with the 6.4 percent growth the district experienced in recent years.

“It is a big number, but your history shows that as well,” McKinney said.

On the 45th day of the current school year, one of several in-year markers for tracking district demographics, the Fort Mill district had 16,127 students.

When the next school year starts in August 2019, McKinney expects Fort Mill to have 17,172 students.

McKinney showed the board hot spot maps, detailing where residential construction is ongoing in Fort Mill. His model accounts for coming growth, largely in the Dobys Bridge Road corridor, Regent Park area and along Fort Mill Parkway. The model relies on building permits, 911 addressing data and other information.

“We are seeing an increase in activity,” McKinney said.

By the 2023-24 school year, McKinney estimates the district will have 21,984 students.

The South Carolina Department of Education lists 80 school districts, plus separate student groups like a charter school district, school for the deaf and blind, governor’s schools and others.

Of the 80 typical districts, only 12 had more than 17,000 students last June, when the school year ended. Of those districts, half are countywide districts.

York County has four school districts. Rock Hill has been the largest. The Rock Hill district had 17,632 students at the end of last school year.

Fort Mill would pass Rock Hill’s current total by the 2020-21 school year and, based on recent year trends, would easily pass Rock Hill within the next five years, according to McKinney’s projection.

The Council of Governments projection is one of several — Cumming Corp., consultant Dale Holden, in-house district projections — used by the Fort Mill district dating back to 1998.

“There are several methodologies, but they all seem to meet together at the end,” said Chuck Epps, district superintendent.

In recent years, when projections were off, they weren’t off on the low end of student growth. The Fort Mill district is home to some of the fastest growing residential areas in the region, including Fort Mill, Tega Cay, and the unincorporated part of York County between them.

McKinney will be back to the board in the spring, to break down projections all the way to individual school attendance zones. The projections will be used to help make decisions such as when and where new schools may be needed, and where attendance lines should go.

Of the more than 17,000 students expected to start next school year, about half will be elementary students.

In early November, the school board set high school attendance lines needed with the opening of Catawba Ridge High School next August. That move involved hundreds of public comments, a public meeting to hear from residents, and even a group upset by the new lines picketing the school board meeting.

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Comments on the attendance lines have continued to roll in, including yet another parental plea at Tuesday night’s meeting to keep high school students from having to switch to a rival school. Several board members said setting the lines was and remains one of the more difficult decisions they’ve had to make.

Attendance lines are just one decision growth brought to the board in recent years, and based on projections will for some time.

“As much fun as we just had with the high school attendance lines, we’ve got to do the same thing for upcoming elementary and middle schools,” said Kristy Spears, board chairwoman.

In March, district residents voted in favor of a $190 million bond to pay for a middle and two elementary schools. In 2015, voters approved a $226 million bond to pay for Catawba Ridge and a new middle school, aquatics facility, training site and land for future schools.

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