Fort Mill Times

$54 million Fort Mill school bond vote just 2 weeks away

With the school bond referendum just over two weeks away, the Keep Our Schools Strong committee is preparing a full marketing campaign to encourage voters to approve the $54 million measure.

The April 30 referendum is a single question that asks voters to approve a $54 million bond sale to build a new Riverview Elementary School on property the district bought last year and to expand Nation Ford and Fort Mill high schools. The bond package also would include the cost of upgrades to Fort Mill High School, which would annex the property now occupied by Riverview.

Officials argue that the high school expansions would delay the need to build a third high school, although a third high school will eventually still be needed if population growth rates continued, they contend. The high schools are expected to reach capacity in the 2015-2016 school year. Expanding the high schools would increase their capacity by 600 students at each school, for a total of 2,400 students per school.

As the referendum approaches, committee chairs Lisa McCarley, David Macaulay and Michele Branning have been meeting with school PTOs to give them information about the referendum and answer questions they have.

One of the most common questions they’ve received, Macaulay said, is “why are we not building a third high school now?”

Taxpayers are still paying for other schools that the district has had to build in the last 10 to 15 years, he said. Expanding the two high schools is a less costly option for those taxpayers than building a third high school. Building a third high school right now would cost an estimated $110 million.

“When you consider that, the logical choice was to expand the two high schools,” he said.

Branning said that the elementary school PTOs have also been interested in what the bond referendum has to offer them, since their students are not affected by the high school’s overcrowding issue.

In addition to the expansion of the two high schools, if approved, the bond referendum would allocate money for technology improvements and safety upgrades to all of the district’s schools, as well as turf athletic fields for both high school stadiums.

“You tell them about those technology improvements and safety improvements and that helps,” she said.

The PTO meetings have been well attended but only eight people attended the one public forum held by the committee. The committee chairs hope for a larger turnout for the upcoming forums.

“My knee-jerk reaction was disheartening but the reality is that people are busy,” Branning said. “They’ve been to the website, the Facebook page or people say, ‘It’s for the schools, so that’s OK,’ and they move on.”

The low turnout for the forum could indicate that voter turnout on April 30 will also be low, Branning said.

“Definitely. I don’t expect a big turnout,” she said.

In the coming weeks, the committee members will continue to meet frequently with community groups but also plan to have three community forums. The dates and times for those forums are still being determined but will be listed on the Keep Our Schools Strong website as soon as they are confirmed.

Residents will also start noticing signs around town promoting the referendum, as well as fliers in mailboxes.

“We’re going to have to remind people to come to the polls on April 30 because there is no other reason to come to the polls that day,” Macaulay said. “So we want to concentrate our efforts around that date.”