Op-ed: Fort Mill school committee pushes bond approval

Students arrive at Doby’s Bridge elementary school for the first day of classes this year. The proposed bond sale calls for funds to build a new middle and high school.
Students arrive at Doby’s Bridge elementary school for the first day of classes this year. The proposed bond sale calls for funds to build a new middle and high school. aburriss@heraldonline.com

The Fort Mill / Tega Cay area is a great place to live! We enjoy a wonderful climate, close proximity to Charlotte, numerous local amenities and beaches and mountains only a few short hours away. But best of all are our excellent schools, the driving factor that has led so many residents to choose to call this area home.

For all of the above reasons, and probably many more, our area is experiencing tremendous growth. With 10,000-12,000 homes already approved throughout Fort Mill, Tega Cay and York County, experts estimate the Fort Mill school district will be required to enroll approximately 7,000 additional students, and will outgrow our current facilities beginning in 2017.

The Fort Mill school bond referendum on Tuesday will feature the recommendation from the district’s administration and school board on what is needed to keep our schools strong in the face of the impending growth. It totals $226.8 million to manage district needs for the next 4-5 years, and it will be financed by a tax increase of 30.5 mils on real and personal property.

The two largest components of the referendum are a new middle school and high school, where capacity constraints are quickly approaching. By 2017, middle schools will exceed current capacity.

It can take up to 36 months to build and open a new middle school, so we must begin right away. By 2019, the same will be true for our high schools. It can take up to 48 months to bring a new high school on line.

In addition to new schools, the bond package will fund critical upgrades and maintenance to aging buildings, technology needs, land for future schools, staff development facilities, warehousing space, buses, and an aquatics center.

As the Keep Our Schools Strong committee visited with groups throughout the area, we heard from citizens frustrated with area growth. We have encouraged these residents to reach out to the appropriate government entities that manage and approve new developments, since this is something the school district does not and cannot control.

Some residents concerned about the tax impact would like to find alternate funding, but state law requires all capital funds for bricks and mortar, land, etc. to come from publicly approved bond referendums. As questions arose about individual components of the package, we answered them as truthfully and fully as possible.

We believe each component of the bond package is important and necessary, such as funding to prevent the elimination of the entire school district swimming program if a future facility is not available.

There are significant consequences that will be felt across the district if this referendum does not pass. We will see the arrival of mobile classrooms, increased class sizes and much higher teacher-student ratios. It will also be difficult to attract and retain the best teachers. The excellence of our schools will deteriorate and likely our property values as well.

We believe this school bond package is good for our community, but our primary request of all voters is that you cast your ballot from fact-based information and thoughtful consideration of the package itself.

Throughout our travels, we have been fortunate to meet many supporters who understand the quality of education that is provided by the district and feel strongly that it should continue. For you, we say thank you for your support, urge you to make that view known and vote yes at the polls on Tuesday.

This was written by members of the Keep Our Schools Strong Referendum Committee, including Sharyn Lewis, Brian Murphy, Kristy Spears and Leigh VanBlarcom.