Fort Mill Times

Fort Mill's school lines plan draws fire

Fort Mill School District administrators made changes to proposed elementary school attendance lines that were recommended to the school board Monday, but many parents of children in the northern part of the district remained unhappy.

"No plan out there will satisfy 100 percent of the people," board chair Jan Smiley said before Monday's meeting.

Superintendent Keith Callicutt echoed that sentiment before Dale Holden, a consultant for the district, presented the administration's recommended school attendance plan. The attendance lines have not been approved yet. That will require a board vote scheduled for Monday, Nov. 3.

Holden also addressed concerns raised by some parents who argued that each school in the district should see numbers of students in the free and reduced lunch program on par with the district average of 18 percent.

"If we tried to hold to the district average, we would be using drastic and short-term solutions," Holden said.

Under the proposed attendance lines, some schools such as Fort Mill Elementary (784 students), Gold Hill Elementary (809 students) and Pleasant Knoll Elementary (753 students) will be close to their 900-student capacities.

Other schools, including Springfield Elementary (470 students), Sugar Creek Elementary (586 students), Riverview Elementary (525 students) and Orchard Park Elementary (563 students), will be smaller. The district average elementary school student population is about 640 students.

Part of the reason for leaving larger student bodies at Fort Mill, Gold Hill and Pleasant Knoll is that the district plans to set up an eighth elementary school in the Massey development on Doby's Bridge Road, which would cut into the Fort Mill attendance area. The district also hopes to set up a ninth elementary school in the Tega Cay area, which would draw from Gold Hill and Pleasant Knoll.

Development has been slowing in recent months, and Holden said the student populations at those schools are not expected to overwhelm the system before the new schools can open in two years.

The new attendance line proposal, referred to as option 3.1, would move 63 students from the Gold Hill attendance zone to the Pleasant Knoll zone, while the other attendance lines remain largely unchanged from option 3, presented last month.

"The biggest thing is they didn't address any of our concerns with Sugar Creek," Joseph McGowan said after the presentation. "We were led to believe that something would be tweaked."

Some parents had expressed concerns in an earlier meeting that they wanted the student demographics at Sugar Creek, including the percentage of students who receive government subsidized school lunches, to more closely resemble the district's average. They worried that a less-affluent student body means fewer parents would get involved and donate fewer dollars.

McGowan, who lives in the Emerald Lake subdivision near Regent Park, said he was offended that this time around, the district highlighted ethnic and racial differences between students by including the percentage of white, black and other students in presenting its proposal. He said his concerns and those of several neighbors have never been about racial makeup, but rather the socioeconomic disparities between school populations.

Other Emerald Lake area residents, most of whom fall under the Sugar Creek attendance lines, said their biggest concern was the amount of traffic the attendance zone for their school would generate through their neighborhoods, most of which have private streets.

"As a Realtor, and I've been here 14 years, I'm going to mention property desirability, which is different than property value," Cyndy BellaVita said. "As long as the district has the demographics stated on its Web site with the ethnicity included, if you're moving here from Kalamazoo (Mich.) and that's the statistics you have to look at, they won't want to move into the Sugar Creek area, just like they did with Riverview."