It’s a decision that will impact thousands of Fort Mill school district families at the moment it’s made, and an untold many in the years to come.
So the district wants to talk about it.
A public meeting is set for 7 p.m. Oct. 1 at Nation Ford High School to discuss new high school attendance lines. New lines are needed ahead of the 2019-’20 opening of Catawba Ridge High School. A final decision on lines for all three district high schools, including Fort Mill High School, should be finalized in early November.
There was discussion on social media earlier this week that the final decision would come Nov. 6. Several school leaders, including current and candidate school board members, posted they expected the decision that night. While plans could change before then, the school district confirmed that date as the target.
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“The final vote date for the Catawba Ridge attendance Lines was officially set for the board meeting scheduled on Nov. 6,” said Joe Burke, district spokesperson.
The school board regularly meets the first Tuesday of each month, which in November would be Nov. 6. That date is election day and students are off from school.
If the vote were to get pushed back, there would be at least a couple of different votes cast. At least two board members will be different by then.
Four board seats are up for election this fall. Incumbents and former board chairs Diane Dasher and Patrick White said they won’t run again. Incumbents Wayne Bouldin and Michele Branning announced they’re seeking new terms.
As of mid-day Thursday, just the second day of candidate filing that runs through noon Aug. 15, the official list of candidates included Terrin Boddie, Andrew Markners, Celia McCarter and Brian Murphy in addition to Bouldin and Branning.
According to school board bylaws, newly elected board members take their seats at the board meeting following the certification of election results. Those results typically become final within the few days following the election.
The Oct. 1 public meeting will provide feedback for the board in making its final decision. The district traditionally redraws school lines just to prepare for the opening of new schools, and as close to those openings as is feasible to have the best demographic data to make the decision. The board doesn’t create new high school lines, for instance, just because a middle or elementary school opens.
A $190 million bond referendum earlier this year included money for a middle school and two new elementary schools. But the public meeting in October is specific to high school lines.
“We are only doing high school lines at this time,” Burke said. “The elementary and middle lines will come closer to the completion of those schools.”
Fort Mill hasn’t had much experience redrawing high school lines. In the desegregation era, the town only had one high school — though at various locations — until Nation Ford opened in 2007.
The attendance boundary between Fort Mill and Nation Ford runs largely north and south, along portions of I-77, U.S. 21 Bypass, S.C. 160 and rail lines from downtown south. Baxter, Kingsley, Tega Cay and western downtown zone Fort Mill. Carowinds, the Dobys Bridge corridor, Massey, Regent Park, Springfield, Waterside and more zone Nation Ford.
The two existing schools have a natural geographic split both north to south and east to west. Fort Mill is about two miles southwest of Nation Ford.
Catawba Ridge will be the furthest south of the three, east of Fort Mill and several miles below Nation Ford, when it opens along Fort Mill Parkway at Whites Road.
The coming decision on high school lines will impact a good many more people than the last one.
When Nation Ford opened, Fort Mill and Tega Cay had a combined population of more than 14,000 residents — fewer total people then, than there are students in the Fort Mill School District now.
Federal estimates now put Fort Mill and Tega Cay at almost 28,000 combined residents. The school district also includes unincorporated areas that don’t factor into those figures, like Baxter, Regent Park and the Carowinds area.
District enrollment when Nation Ford opened was 8,853. Last school year, district enrollment topped 15,000 students for the first time.