As Fort Mill residents consider how to vote in Tuesday's school bond referendum, they need to ask themselves the question: What's the alternative?
Voters will be asked Tuesday to approve a $95.9 million bond issue. The package has been divided into two parts. The largest and more important one calls for $87.25 million for two new elementary schools, a new middle school and land for future schools.
The second would authorize $8.718 million to add auxiliary gyms at the district's two high schools and build a multi-use stadium at the new Nation Ford High, which opened in August. While voters will have the option of approving either one or both of the two issues, we recommend a "yes" vote for both.
Voters, of course, have another option: Rejecting this bond issue altogether. But what then?
Fort Mill's school population grew by more than 10 percent during the last school year, the fastest growth rate in the state. It is expected to grow by more than 11 percent this year, with roughly 100 students a month moving into the district, and similar growth is projected next year.
Fort Mill is attracting these students, many of them from the Charlotte area, because of the excellent reputation of its school system. The growth cannot be stopped in its tracks, so more schools and associated buildings are needed to prevent overcrowding and maintain the quality of education for all.
Enrollment at three elementary schools already has been frozen. When a freeze occurs, new students are bused to an overflow school outside their normal attendance zone.
Approving Question 1 on Tuesday's ballot would help the district balance attendance zones, halt enrollment freezes, minimize the use of portable units for overflow students, maintain reasonable class sizes and find room for new students.
We have some reservations about whether the new 5,000-seat stadium on the campus of Nation Ford High is a true necessity. But it certainly would be a boon to sports programs at the school and would enhance school pride. Nation Ford High now has a lighted athletic field, but no facilities such as restrooms, concession stands or stadium bleachers for fans.
A better case can be made for the new gyms at both high schools for physical education classes, team practices, school dances, pep rallies, special events and concerts. Some teams now must wait hours before they can use current gym space to practice. Fort Mill High's wrestling team has to move seven mats from the hallway into their practice area, which also doubles as the cafeteria and common areas. The gyms are essential for both high schools' academic missions and the extra-curricular activities that create more well-rounded graduates.
Even with the stadium, the bond package in Question 2 is a bargain for taxpayers. The owner of a $200,000 home would pay only about $10 more a year for the stadium and gyms.
Again, voters must ask themselves what the alternatives to this bond issue are, and the answer already is evident: More crowded classrooms, more mobile units, more busing of students outside their normal attendance zones and, in all likelihood, a decline in the overall quality of education in Fort Mill.
Those conditions are not acceptable for a community that always has made an exceptional educational system a high priority. We urge voters to take the time to go to the polls Tuesday and to support both questions in this crucial referendum.
Fort Mill must build new schools to accommodate inevitable growth in student population.
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